COVID-19 cases top 1,600 in Arkansas; 37 deaths reported

150,000 unemployment claims filed and processed in Arkansas

Arkansas COVID-19 cases top 1,000; 110,000 unemployment claims filed

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - The positive COVID-19 cases in the state of Arkansas has grown to over 1,600.

As of 9:45 p.m. Thursday, April 16, there are 1,620 positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, 83 people in the hospital, 548 recoveries, and 37 deaths.

Both Governor Asa Hutchinson and Dr. Nate Smith again addressed questions regarding life in Arkansas after the peak of COVID-19. Hutchinson said he’ll received an update from his medical advisory group on Friday.

Meanwhile, Dr. Smith said he’s seeing “good trends” but will continue to look at the data to make wise choices on when to ease restrictions in Arkansas.

Breakdown Provided During Thursday’s News Conference

  • Total Cases: 1,620
  • Active Cases: 1,035
  • Deaths: 37
  • Recoveries: 548
  • 83 in the Hospital, 21 on ventilators
  • Healthcare Workers: 223, up 8 from Wednesday
  • Nursing Homes: 118 cases, up 15 from Wednesday and includes 28 facilities under investigation

Unemployment in Arkansas

Governor Hutchinson announced on Thursday that 150,000 unemployment claims had been filed in Arkansas during this pandemic.

With many claims being filed, major changes were announced Thursday from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said a new website was launched regarding unemployment claims.

Arkansans can go to ARUnemployment.com to access the latest information.

Preston said the site includes information on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which allowed more people who previously were not eligible for benefits to file claims. The site also includes an email alert system that Arkansans can sign up to receive the latest information.

In addition, the state’s unemployment hotline will have extended hours: Sunday through Saturday, 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. Preston said calls will stop around 4 p.m. and the additional two hours will be used to help people still on hold.

Preston also addressed small business loans provided through the CARES Act. Nearly 15,000 businesses in Arkansas have applied for money through the payroll protection program. That equals $2.1 billion in aid to Arkansas businesses.

Healthcare Worker Bonus

Arkansas Department of Health Director Dr. Nate Smith said Wednesday that testing restrictions are being relaxed in the state. That means anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 can now get a test.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said the state has been granted a waiver for bonus payments for long-term care service workers from Medicaid funds.

Direct care workers include

  • Registered nurses
  • Licensed practical nurses
  • Certified nurse aids
  • Personal care aids assisting with daily living under the supervision of a nurse or therapist
  • Home health aids assisting with activities of daily living under the supervision of a nurse or therapist
  • Nursing assistive personnel
  • Direct care workers providing services under home and community-based waivers
  • Intermediate care facility direct care staff including those that work for a state-run Human Development Center
  • Assisted living direct care staff members
  • Hospice service direct care workers
  • Respiratory therapists

The base supplemental payments will be paid to direct care workers:

  • Work 20-39 hours per week - $125 per week
  • Work 40+ hours per week - $250 per week
  • Work a regularly planned split shift schedule that overlaps weeks that equal or exceeds 150 hours per month, not including overtime - $250 per week.

Tiered payments based on the acuity of beneficiaries who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are receiving treatment will be made as follows:

  • Work 1-19 hours per week - $125 per week
  • Work 20-39 hours per week - $250 per week
  • Work 40+ hours per week - $500 per week.
  • Work a regularly planned split shift schedule that overlaps weeks that equal or exceeds 150 hours per month, not including overtime - $500 per week

One category not covered is hospital direct care workers and non-direct care workers at nursing homes. Governor Hutchinson is directing the steering committee to approve money supplemental payments for them.

COVID-19 and Arkansas Prisons

During Thursday’s news conference, Dr. Nate Smith provided new information regarding COVID-19 in corrections facilities.

  • Forrest City Federal Correction: 46 inmates, 9 staff
  • Little Rock Community Correction: 59 inmates, 27 staff
  • Cummins Unit: 46 inmates, no staff

Corrections Director Dexter Payne said all inmates and staff members have facemasks at state prisons.

At the Federal Correctional Institute in Forrest City, Dr. Smith said 55 people have tested positive for COVID-19. A CDC team has been called to the facility in Forrest City to help mitigate the outbreak in the prison.

Other Highlights From Previous News Conference

  • The governor issued an executive order that allows first responders to file for worker’s compensation if they become infected with COVID-19 while performing their duties.
  • Arkansas is testing 69 people per every 10,000 residents as of April 14, but Hutchinson said the testing capacity is increasing in the state.
  • Governor Hutchinson and Dr. Smith said any organization planning to hold a summer camp, may need to look at an alternative if the state is still in a state of emergency.
  • Gov. Hutchinson told Arkansans that famed Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave his ‘stamp of approval,’ on the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in a Friday morning phone call.
  • Hutchinson has started a post-peak advisory board, with a 7-person board of medical advisors to give guidance on how to avoid another spike as the state begins to come out of the virus.
  • Jackson County reported its first positive COVID-19 test on Monday, April 13.
  • Currently, every county in Region 8 has at least one positive case, except Fulton County.
  • As of 12 p.m. Sunday, April 12, seven of the deaths statewide have been reported in Region 8. Four of those deaths were in Cleburne County, two deaths were reported in Crittenden County and one death was in Lawrence County.
  • To see the latest “Projected vs. Actual” chart, click here.
  • Two nursing homes in Region 8 have a positive COVID-19 test, Greene Acres in Paragould, and the Walnut Ridge Nursing & Rehab Center in Lawrence County.

The governor has praised Arkansans for their help in flattening the curve.

Hutchinson said, “It’s data and science that guide our decisions.”

Dr. Nate Smith says “There’s political pressure to do what everyone else is doing, but Arkansas needs health care workers, and we need grocery stores. Do we flatten the curve more with an order? We already have. Do stay-at-home orders work? Not necessarily for a state like ours.”

Hutchinson said "If issued a stay-at-home order, 700,000 Arkansans would get up and go to work because they are considered “essential.” People would still go to the store because that’s deemed essential. Doing so would put “a couple 100,000 out of work.”

Education:

While the spread is slowing, Hutchinson announced the remainder of the school semester will be in online form only. No schools will allow kids to be back in the building for the remainder of the semester.

Johnny Key, Arkansas Department of Education announced that AMI and public education on PBS will continue on-air education until May 1. Key says this will allow schools the time to come up with AMI delivery for the remainder of the semester.

School districts can continue meal distribution services as long as they follow ADH and CDC guidelines.

Key asked everyone to “be flexible, our schools and educators can not replicate the school experience when children are at home. It is impossible to expect the typical day schedule when students are working from home."

Key expects districts to focus on core subjects; math, literacy, science, and social studies.

Seniors in good standing will graduate but are still expected to continue their work. AP students will be able to take their tests online.

As for grades, the ACT Aspire test has been canceled, and the schools will have to adjust going into the next school year.

For graduation, Key said they were working to address graduations, and that they could happen virtually.

More details on Arkansas programs:

CEO of Arkansas Community Foundation and the state of Arkansas have partnered to create a community relief fund to help people impacted by COVID-19. As of Sunday, over $2 million has been pledged to the fund.

Larkin said the money will be given to non-profits and that the group’s 28 offices around the state will work on the project.

People can learn more about the fund by going here.

The Governor announced the state would be spending $45 million from the COVID-19 fund the Arkansas legislature set up to go towards purchasing more PPE. The governor said they would purchase ventilators as soon as they get on the marketplace.

Hutchinson said he spoke with a supplier and said his demand is 64% more than their production. He says they are competing with other states for suppliers. “It’s a seller’s market for medical gear,” Hutchinson said.

Under the CARES Act, states will get money for needs, and the governor has signed an executive order creating a 15-person committee to use that federal money. The governor believes the state of Arkansas could receive $1.25 billion in federal funds.

The Governor also rolled out a new initiative geared toward rural hospitals. It will keep the doors of Arkansas health care providers open and employees employed. Hutchinson said, “the plan will be in effect during an emergency but will have lasting benefits.”

The estimated cost of the proposal related to COVID-19 is $116,300,000.

Almost $91 million would come from the federal government under a Medicaid waiver. The state would kick in the additional $25 million. Arkansas is asking Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today for approval, Gov. Hutchinson said in a media release.

The proposal also pays $1,000 a month for nurses and $2,000 per month for those nurses with confirmed COVID-19 patients.

The proposal will also help rural hospitals and healthcare facilities with 65 beds or less. Some of the money will be used for expanding isolation for COVID-19 patients and adding more beds where necessary. Hutchinson said the payments will be a little disproportionate to facilities with a higher number of COVID-19 patients.

Additional money allocated to rural hospitals will help them build temporary screening facilities, drive-thru testing, direct care workers (nursing homes), homeless programs, and also an extra payment to foster families.

Gov. Hutchinson also created a directive, saying individuals must abide by the 10 people or less guideline in a gathering. A directive does have the power of law and the authority for people to disperse if something is seen.

The ADH also released a new interactive map tracking the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state, with an up-to-date tally of tests, recoveries, and, when they occur, deaths. To view it click here.

Economy

Gov. Hutchinson issued an executive order dealing with temporarily banning out of state travelers from staying at hotel, motel or short term rental places in the state.

“Commercial lodgings and short-term rentals, including, but not limited to hotels, motels, and vacation rentals, shall only permit occupancy for the following authorized guests - healthcare professionals, first responders, law enforcement, state or Federal employees on official business,

The governor also issued an executive order that would help reduce travel from out of state into Arkansas. The state has seen a 40% decrease in travel patterns since the COVID-19 emergency began, Gov. Hutchinson said.

Gov. Hutchinson said the state is likely to see nearly 100,000 layoffs due to the COVID-19 emergency and that the fund will provide an opportunity for Arkansans to help one another.

Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said, “We went from processing 1,000 a week and now upwards of 30,000 and it’s putting a strain on our system.”

State officials are working to process claims as quickly as possible, noting both federal and state unemployment aid is available and officials are working to help businesses as well.

Preston said they’re waiting for federal guidance on the pandemic unemployment compensation that is supposed to help independent contractors.

The website lists resources including disaster loan application overviews, loan information, tax relief, and information about $12 million in block grant funding for local

Also, the work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has been suspended through the end of April while DHS will be moving to expedite decisions about the eligibility of people under SNAP who have lost income because of COVID-19, officials said.

The Arkansas economy, as a result of layoffs, the state expects a $353 million shortfall between now and the end of the budget year, which is June 30.

As a result of layoffs, the state expects a $160 million reduction in revenue.

“We’re not the federal government, we can’t print money,” Gov. Hutchinson said on the shortfall over the next 3 months, in part due to pushing back the tax filing date.

Hutchinson said this is the “calm before the storm.”

He said the state and nation have not seen “this kind of economic downturn” before.

The Arkansas tax return deadline is now July 15. Corporate filers must still file their returns by April 15.

Attorney General/Price gouging:

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says the AG’s office is committing $3 million for the Quick Action Response Loan program to help small businesses.

The $3 million is coming from the Revenue Stabilization Fund, not from taxpayers.

AG Rutledge also said she has ongoing investigations from complaints from either mask being sold at a higher price, or small stores changing prices.

Rutledge urges people to not post a gouging joke on social media, and if you do it, it will result in a call or visit from her office.

Rutledge says hospitals and clinics are still being “price-gouged” for some items, like masks, gowns, etc. UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson says this helps them cut out the “shady characters.”

Rutledge said individuals suspected to be price gouging will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Testing Info:

The ADH does not collect specimens for testing. Only your health care provider can decide if testing is needed and collect the needed specimens.

At this time, the ADH Public Health Lab is only performing tests for Arkansans with possible high-risk exposure to COVID-19. However, health care providers have access to testing through other labs.

For more details on testing, click here.

“We are being very aggressive in this and we hope to limit the pain we are all dealing with,” said Hutchinson. “Should we be afraid? No. We will have to make changes in the short-term but we have many people working on it,” said Hutchinson.

“This is a serious situation,” Dr. Smith added. "We have to make dramatic changes to our lives.”

While the number of screenings is increasing rapidly, UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said the system is “under stress.” And the pressure is being felt at hospitals across the state.

Day by day breakdown:

  • 3/11: 1 case
  • 3/12: 6 cases
  • 3/13: 9 cases (Also the first instance of community spread)
  • 3/14: 12 cases
  • 3/15: 16 cases
  • 3/16: 22 cases
  • 3/17: 22 cases
  • 3/18: 37 cases
  • 3/19: 62 cases
  • 3/20: 100 cases (Three nursing homes affected)
  • 3/21: 118 cases
  • 3/22: 165 cases
  • 3/23: 197 cases
  • 3/24: 232 cases (1st and 2nd death reported in the state)
  • 3/25: 301 cases
  • 3/26: 349 cases (3rd death reported)
  • 3/27: 381 cases
  • 3/28: 404 cases (4th & 5th death reported)
  • 3/29: 426 (6th death reported)
  • 3/30: 508 cases (7th death reported)
  • 3/31: 523 cases (8th death reported)
  • 4/1: 624 cases (9th & 10th death reported)
  • 4/2: 683 cases (11th and 12th deaths reported)
  • 4/3: 738 cases
  • 4/4: 743 cases (13th and 14th deaths reported)
  • 4/5: 853 cases (15th and 16th deaths reported)
  • 4/6 - 875 cases (Announces schools will be online only for the remainder of the semester)
  • 4/7 - 946 cases (17th and 18th deaths reported)
  • 4/8 - 1,071 cases
  • 4/9 - 1,119 cases (19th, 20th and 21st deaths reported)
  • 4/10 - 1,202 cases (22nd, 23rd and 24th deaths reported)
  • 4/11 - 1,228 cases (25th and 26th deaths reported)
  • 4/12 - 1,280 cases (27th death reported)
  • 4/13 - 1,410 cases (28th, 29th, & 30th death reported)
  • 4/14 - 1,540 cases (31st and 32nd deaths reported)
  • 4/15 - 1,599 cases (33rd and 34th deaths reported)
  • 4/16 - 1,620 cases (35th, 36th, and 37th deaths reported)

See the latest press conference here:

Governor Asa Hutchinson and state officials are giving an update on COVID-19 in Arkansas

Governor Asa Hutchinson and state officials are giving an update on COVID-19 in Arkansas (4-10-20).

Posted by Region 8 News on Thursday, April 9, 2020

The governor has declared a public health emergency.

The Arkansas Department of Health is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 daily.

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