LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Sunday has asked state prison officials to review the sentences of all non-violent, non-sex offender inmates in the state prison system as officials answered questions about a COVID-19 outbreak in the Cummins Unit prison in south Arkansas.
During the 1:30 p.m. press conference at the Capitol, Gov. Hutchinson said the review will be for about 2,000 inmates who are set to be released in the next six months.
The review will be done by the Arkansas Department of Corrections and the state Parole Board, Hutchinson said.
As of Sunday, there has been 348 positive tests in the Cummins Prison, with three hospitalized. Gov. Hutchinson said officials are following state guidelines to take care of the inmates, including separating inmates who have tested positive from those who have not.
Gov. Hutchinson said at least 1,400 inmates have been tested for COVID-19 so far.
Both Gov. Hutchinson and Dr. Nate Smith of the Arkansas Department of Health also gave an update on cases in the state.
As of 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19, there were 1,781 positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas with 1,020 active cases.
The number of deaths increased to 40 on Sunday, up two from Saturday, officials said at the press conference.
Dr. Smith said the two new deaths involved a person at a nursing home and a healthcare worker at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff.
Both Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials said Saturday that the focus of a new task force will be to improve the state’s economy while looking at safety and complying with state health directives.
During the press conference at the Capitol, Gov. Hutchinson said he signed an executive order to help look at economic recovery in the state.
The task force, made up of about two dozen people, will include sports, agriculture, small business, retail and tourism leaders to work on the issue.
Hutchinson said Steuart Walton will chair the task force, while Lake City native and Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward and ASU System President Dr. Chuck Welch will also serve on the task force.
“The task force shall develop a strategy for the economic recovery effort from the effects of COVID-19. The task force will examine the impact and recovery needs across the spectrum of businesses and industries in the state and make any recommendations necessary to assist with the easing of COVID-19 mitigation measures and the restoration of the Arkansas economy,” the executive order noted.
Gov. Hutchinson also said the state has about 90 Abbott lab testing machines to test for COVID-19. The machines can have results available in 15 minutes.
Also, Gov. Hutchinson said $10 million in Community Development Block Grant funding will be going to 27 rural hospitals around the state.
The funding, which ranges from $250,000 to $500,000, will help the hospitals at a key time.
On Friday, Gov. Hutchinson and Dr. Nate Smith, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, updated the public on the state’s response to the coronavirus.
The number of deaths increased to 38 on Saturday, up one from Friday at 37.
So far, 719 people have recovered for the virus, state health officials said.
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson, who also attended the press conference, said UAMS has put together a mobile unit to help with screenings.
A team has gone around the state to do the tests, with doctors able to visit about three communities a week, Patterson said.
During Friday’s press conference, Gov. Hutchinson began with recognizing Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. of Fort Smith, who died due to COVID-19.
Then, he addressed President Donald Trump’s recommendation on opening the country back up. He said the plan is a good starting point, but the state still has more work to do.
The governor said the number of emergency room visits with coronavirus-type illnesses, which is one of the criteria to reopening the country and state, but our cases are still on the upswing.
In the Arkansas Department of Corrections, Dr. Smith said there are 83 new positive COVID-19 cases at the Cummins Unit, bringing the total to 129. Not all of those new positives are reflected in today’s totals.
Dr. Smith went on to say that testing capacity in the state is increasing, will all symptomatic people being able to get a test.
He also said for the foreseeable future, needs will be met in the state when it comes to ICU beds and ventilators.
May 4 is the target date for the state to start lifting restrictions in the state, Dr. Smith said.
The priorities for reopening the state are restoring the economy, protecting the vulnerable populations, maintaining good health care, and preventing the resurgence of the virus.
Dr. Smith said the state needs to have a coordinated approach and a statewide plan while still respecting the regional differences within Arkansas.
Governor Hutchinson said to meet the May 4 goal, we must manage the spread, reduce the spread, and the cooperation of people to stick to social distancing guidelines.
He said if we can meet the criteria, then by May 4, we can start returning to normalcy in the state.
Watch a replay of Friday, 4/17 update here »