New highs for COVID-19 infections and deaths in Arkansas on Saturday drew notice from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“The record number of new cases is very concerning and may be the result of the July 4th celebrations. Regardless, it is a reminder of the challenge we continue to face. As we dig deeper into the data, I will have further comments on Monday,” Hutchinson said.
Between Friday and Saturday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported that the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state rose by 1,058 to 27,864. This was the largest daily increase since the pandemic was declared in mid-March, and the first time Arkansas’ daily case total rose by more than 1,000.
The number of active cases increased by 508 statewide to 6,355.
The number of deaths rose by 14 to 319 – also a daily record. Union County reported its 14th COVID-19 fatality.
Columbia County has five official COVID-19 deaths, but County Coroner Randy Reed confirmed on Saturday that there’s been a sixth fatality that hasn’t yet been recorded on the ADH website. The latest fatality, a 65-year-old man, is Columbia County’s youngest victim and his death at home was the first to take place outside a nursing facility.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Saturday announced a mandatory mask requirement for all people age 8 and older, effective Monday. All bars were closed to on-premises consumption. Indoor social gatherings were limited to 50 people.
“Cases in Louisiana continue to increase, including setting a record-high number of new cases reported in one day, today and yesterday,” Edwards said Saturday.
“More than two thousand new COVID infections reported each of these days and increased hospitalizations are signs that we continue to go in the wrong direction in our work to control COVID-19 in our state. While I had hoped to avoid going backwards on restrictions, it is obvious that it is necessary to slow the spread of infection in our state, as COVID-19 has spread to every corner, at a level higher than we have previously seen. This is why I am now mandating face coverings statewide and also closing all bars in Louisiana to on-premises consumption, in addition to putting in limits on the size of indoor gatherings,” Edwards said.
The State of Texas issued an order last week mandating masks for everyone age 2 or older as the number of cases skyrocketed.
In the past week, Texas’ total case count grew by almost 10,000 daily to 250,462 on Saturday. The number of deaths increased by more than 500, to 3,112. The number of active cases in Texas grew by about 18,000 during the week, to 119,470.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gave counties the option to opt out of the order if they’ve had few cases. However, officials in many heavily populated counties have said they will not enforce the order since they can’t arrest people for violating it. The Texas order does include a $250 fine for people caught violating the order twice.
Arkansas Gov. Hutchinson continues to ask state residents to wear masks and to follow other disease prevention practices. These include maintaining at least a six-foot instance from others, avoiding large crowds, and frequent hand washing.
Hutchinson said most Southern and Southwestern states are seeing dramatic increases in cases.
“This virus does not give up. We have to continue to be very vigilant. We have to be disciplined in this. If we let up for one second, it will come back and accelerate,” Hutchinson said.
However, Hutchinson remains unwilling to order Arkansans to wear masks. A week ago, he offered Arkansas municipalities a sample ordinance to encourage mask wearing, but also lacked penalties for non-compliance.
Hutchinson was asked in De Queen his reaction to posters on social media who insist that wearing masks are either useless or part of a hoax.
“Thank goodness those who follow the conspiracy theories are in the extreme minority,” Hutchinson said.
“We’re worked hard on education and it’s a national message as well as a state message about the benefits from a medical standpoint of wearing a mask. People understand that. You’d have to be hiding under a rock somewhere to not get the message that has been conveyed consistently as to how you protect others. But it’s also common sense as you can see that it protects you and others from the spread of the virus,” Hutchinson said.
Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, was blunt on the need for a statewide requirement for Arkansans to wear masks in public.
“We need to understand that masking is not a political issue. It is a scientific issue. It’s proven to work. Social distancing is a scientific issue. It is proven to work,” Patterson said Friday on the weekly Arkansas PBS broadcast, “Arkansas Week.”
“It’s really difficult to make the case to somebody in Little Rock that they need to wear a mask when there’s a town 30 miles away where masking is not required. It creates a situation in which people don’t know what to believe. We really need a ‘true north’ right now in terms of what is required socially for Arkansas to flatten that curve,” he said.
“A uniform policy for masking across the state is what’s going to be needed to flatten the curve for the entire state,” Patterson said.
UAMS researchers issued last week a forecast that under current conditions, Arkansas may see 100,000 active cases during late September or early October.