First ‘presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Arkansas forces college closure

Southeast Arkansas College closing campus due to COVID-19, saying 3 students were exposed to presumptive COVID-19 patient.
Published: Mar. 11, 2020 at 7:42 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - During a news conference Wednesday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the state’s first “presumptive case” of coronavirus.

Hutchinson said the patient is in Pine Bluff and has been isolated at a local hospital.

The governor also declared a public health emergency.

Hutchinson says the person had traveled out of state recently but had no international travel.

Southeast Arkansas College in Pine Bluff has closed campus saying 3 students were exposed to presumptive COVID-19 patient. In a statement the college said:

SEARK is closing campus to provide our custodial services staff an opportunity to perform a deep cleaning of the building, paying particular attention to the Allied Health classrooms and equipment. The cleaning will comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and the college is working in conjunction with the Arkansas Department of Health.

According to KATV’s Zack Briggs, the governor urges Arkansans to “rethink their spring break travel plans.”

For more information on the coronavirus, and tips on keeping healthy, click here. »

A presumptive case means the person has tested positive in the state, and the results have been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.

“For months, Arkansas has been well prepared to respond to COVID-19. More than two months ago, the Arkansas Department of Health, under the leadership of Dr. Nathaniel Smith, designated more than 70 of its employees to work exclusively on COVID-19. The team has worked tirelessly to coordinate our state’s response to a potential COVID-19 outbreak. Today, I also asked each of my Cabinet secretaries to prepare a continuity of operation plan in the event of an outbreak of the virus. I have also been in frequent communication with Vice President Mike Pence, the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services, and numerous other governors for updates and information," Hutchinson said.

Governor Hutchinson went on to say, “The State is taking measures to respond to the confirmed case appropriately and swiftly so that information and resources are available for Arkansans. We are taking every measure to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Arkansas, but the best way to protect yourself from contracting any virus is by practicing healthy habits, washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, and staying close to home if you are not feeling well.”

“Essential state services will continue in the event that the coronavirus is beyond what we see right now in our state,” he said. “At the current time, there’s no need to do all our work remotely. There’s no need to disrupt our state services. Our business will continue as usual.”

Hutchinson said he’s restricting out-of-state travel for state employees for 60 days. He urged all Arkansas residents to reconsider traveling out of state, especially to areas that have confirmed cases of the virus.

The announcement came as the number of cases throughout the United States topped 1,000 with more than 30 deaths.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that the CDC is awarding over $560 million to state and local jurisdictions to combat the coronavirus. Arkansas will receive $6,205,347 while Missouri is getting $9,888,657.30.

We will update this story as more details become available.

Copyright 2020 KAIT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this story.