Gov. Asa Hutchinson has set May 4 as the date he would like to see Arkansas begin to start relaxing some quarantine rules related to COVID-19. He said Monday he would make a decision this week if that would happen.
The governor made the initial announcement April 17 in response to the White House plan that was released the same day.
“Our objective is to have May 4 as the date that we can start lifting some of the restrictions that are in place,” Hutchinson said. “But we have to be able to manage the spread in the meantime...we need everyone to stick with the guidelines and protect one another.”
The national administration’s plan includes a requirement that a state have a downward trend in “influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period and downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period,” as well as a downward trajectory in documented cases during that same time.
It also requires that all hospitals be able to treat all patients without crisis care and that states have a “robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.”
During the first phase, social distancing is still encouraged and meeting in groups of more than 10 is still discouraged, as is non-essential travel.
Phase 1 would allow some workers to return to work in phases, though it encourages telework wherever possible as well as accommodations for members of identified vulnerable populations.
The next two phases require additional demonstrated improvement before restrictions can be lifted.
“We have a number (of criteria) we meet very quickly, and a couple that we want to make sure fit Arkansas,” Hutchinson said during a news conference last week.
During his briefing April 27, the governor said he felt optimistic the state could quickly meet the benchmarks.
“We’re on a downward slope, but we haven’t been there for 14 days,” he said.
As of Monday, Arkansas had 3,017 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Fifty patients had died of the disease, 107 were at that time hospitalized and 24 were on ventilators. The state had 907 patients considered recovered.
Last week the state saw a significant jump in confirmed positives, adding 304 in a single day. The majority of those cases, 262, were located at the Cummins State Penitentiary.
Arkansas State Health Secretary Nate Smith said last week that when one considers the data excluding prisons — there has also been an outbreak at Forrest City Federal Correctional Institution — the case is seeing fewer positive tests.
“If you take out the positives from the correctional system, our numbers of new cases are going down,” Smith said. “Last week we were looking at consistently about 70 a day, and now we are looking on average about half that. That is a good sign that we are hopefully on the downswing of community transmission of COVID-19.”
Ashley County had 13 confirmed cases of COVID and four recoveries as of Monday with 228 negative tests. Neighboring Chicot County had nine confirmed cases, two recoveries and 49 negative tests. Drew County had 13 positive cases and one death, and Desha had 16 positive cases and 12 recoveries.
Nationally, the U.S. has confirmed more than 979,077 infections and seen 55,563 deaths.