Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a COVID-18 press briefing on Saturday.

Highlights from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s COVID-19 press conference on Saturday.

There were 163 new cases statewide during past 24 hours. The number of deaths rose 2 to 115. The number of hospitalizations rose 5 to 86. The number on ventilators rose 3 to 17. Of the new cases, most were in the following counties: Benton, 23; Washington, 20; Yell, 17; Sevier,17; Pulaski, 12. Of the 1,564 current active cases, 88 are in nursing homes, 509 are at correctional institutions, and 967 were in communities. Reminder that all ADH Health Unit offices have tests available. Targeted testing May 29 in De Queen, June 7 in El Dorado.

The governor noted that the current peak in cases is coming about 30 days from the last peak. He raised five points.

First, the public should recognize that the record level of testing helps to find more cases. This allows for contact tracing to be more effective and quicker. “Expanded testing means we have improved our early warning system to know where we have cases in Arkansas and how to deal with that,” Hutchinson said.

Second, the initial fear was that Arkansas would not have enough hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients. However, it appears that bed space will be sufficient to deal with any large increase. Early identification of people who test positive, but who are not very ill, should help keep hospitalizations down.

Third, while the number of positive cases has increased, the positivity rate of about 5 percent is about half the national rate. “This indicates that we are getting ahead of the spread,” Hutchinson said.

Fourth, Arkansas’ per capital death rate due to COVID-19 infections is among the nation’s lowest.

Fifth, Arkansans need to be disciplined in their personal safety habits. The governor said it’s evident that there are more positive cases than previously known. “We need to be aware of that and not be casual,” Hutchinson said.

Gov. Hutchinson said he’s forming a COVID-19 technical advisory board. It will evaluate new technologies, such as one for contract tracing, and will help create an infrastructure he believes will be needed to help cope with COVID-19 this fall.

Dr. Nate Smith, director of the Arkansas Department of Health, briefly discussed the NW Arkansas outbreak. In Benton County, most of the cases were in Rogers and many of those cases were clustered in three families. In Washington County, most of the cases were in Springdale. It’s not yet known if those cases have direct ties to poultry plants in the area.

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