Coronavirus in Arkansas: Governor, Secretary of Health discuss contact tracing

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson and Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, gave an update Thursday afternoon on the cases in Arkansas and contact tracing.

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 4,366 cumulative cases and 98 deaths in the state, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson.

That is an addition of 130 cases and one death, according to state officials. Of the new cases, state officials say 17 are in the prison system and 113 are in communities.

State officials say the following counties had positive cases within the last 24 hours:

  • Union County- 21
  • Craighead County- 14
  • Pulaski County- 13
  • Washington County- 12
  • Jefferson County- 11
  • Sharp County- 10
  • The other cases were in small numbers in other counties, according to Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith said if you live in one of the counties above, be on the lookout because there is COVID-19 circulating in the community. Smith said don’t have a party, wear a mask in public and practice good hygiene

Out of the cumulative number of cases, 928 of them are considered active, according to state officials. Of the active cases, 305 are in prisons, 101 are in nursing homes and 522 are in communities.

There were five additional hospitalizations due to the coronavirus within the last 24 hours, bringing the state’s total to 69. State officials noted this was the second day of an increase in hospitalizations.

Ten people are on a ventilator due to the virus, which was a decrease of three from Wednesday.

According to Dr. Smith, ADH is following 51 nursing homes across the state who have one or more cases of the virus. Dr. Smith also said three new nursing home staff tested positive for the virus since Wednesday, bringing the total of staff members testing positive for the virus to 179.

Dr. Smith said ADH is testing other buildings in the Randall L. Williams Correctional Facility in Pine Bluff.

According to Dr. Smith, 3,340 people have recovered from the virus.

Governor Hutchinson said Thursday there were 1,991 tests done in the last 24 hours with a 2.6 percent positivity rate.

The governor also announced Walmart is adding testing sites in West Memphis, Jonesboro, Hot Springs and Texarkana. This is in addition to the Bentonville, Little Rock and Fort Smith locations.

The governor said Wednesday state officials are not in a position to predict when we might go into phase two. Hutchinson reminded everyone to be careful because we have a lot of work still to do.

According to the governor, Arkansas saw a peak in April, but we are starting to see an upward trend.

State officials say as the number of tests increase, the number of cases will also increase. According to state officials, the number of hospitalizations is a steady, more reliable factor, and they will continue to watch it.

The governor said we need continue to emphasize testing because it’s an early warning system for a new virus attack. Gov. Hutchinson said testing gives officials the information needed. Then it goes to the case tracking system, which the governor said it’s the most effective defense in controlling the spread.

The governor also showed the typical steps to a contact tracing investigation. The flow chart showed each time there is a new case, the person will be interviewed by a nurse. A contact tracer will then call the patient to get a list of contact. Then the contact tracer calls the contacts. All contacts are then enrolled in SARA alert system. If the contact has no symptoms, they quarantine for 14 days. If the contact show symptoms, they are instructed to get tested.

The governor gave an example of 64 people who tested positive last Saturday. According to state officials, 15 were in Pulaski County, nine were in St. Francis County and six were in Benton County. In the contact tracing, 49 people were successfully contacted, one had died, one was hospitalized, one is a nursing home resident, two were out of state and officials were still trying to contact two people.

State officials expressed concern over the two people who have yet to be contacted, saying they could be traveling or just not answering.

State officials ask for people to answer if the health department calls and cooperate. State officials say this knowledge helps limit exposure, protect individuals and make sure people get care and treatment they might need.

Dr. Smith also said he visited the PPE decontamination unit at Goodwill Industries and said this resource is available to all providers in the state. Dr. Smith said N95 masks can be used up to 20 times which will extend the supply. According to Dr. Smith, all providers have to do is call and set up the free contract and send masks with a prepaid FedEx and they will get the masks back within24 to 72 hours.

Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said Thursday the trust fund for unemployment insurance stands at $778 million. Preston said the trust fund caps at $1 billion. According to Preston, officials were expecting to hit that cap this year before the pandemic. Preston says the trust fund is in good standing right now and state officials are monitoring it closely.

Preston said of the payments going out, $109 million is from the state trust fund, $248 million is Federal Pandemic Compensation for the additional $600 given by the CARES Act. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which is also part of the CARES Act for an additional 13 weeks is about half a million dollars. Preston said in total, $357.9 million has been paid to Arkansans.

Preston said as far as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, about 30,000 applications have been filed. According to Preston, an email went out to all applicants about the process. Preston said barring any issues, he hopes payments will go out the week of May 18. Preston said his department is working closely on certification because they don’t want the system to be exposed to fraud. He hopes the system will be able to find fraudulent claims.

For more information, watch the full news conference above.

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