Ashley County hit its highest number of recorded active COVID-19 cases this week, but the numbers have fallen slightly since then.

As of Monday afternoon, the county had 72 active cases. By Tuesday evening, that number had fallen to 69, of which 56 were considered “confirmed” because they were diagnosed using Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. The remaining 13 active cases were considered “probable”, meaning that they were detected using other methods.

The county also recorded another COVID death in the past week, bringing the total of COVID-related mortalities to 13.

The new numbers reflect a growing number of infections in the state, which saw six days of 1,000-plus new infections diagnosed in the last week. Reports from the Arkansas Department of Health said the state had 12,874 active cases of COVID on Monday.

State Health Director Jose Romero said Tuesday 124 COVID patients are on ventilators in Arkansas.

“We are keeping a very close eye on the supply of ventilators we have in the state,” he said.

As of Tuesday evening, 809 patients admitted to hospitals were COVID-19 positive, and 310 were in the ICU.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he has spoken with the state’s hospital administrators and they are making adjustments. The number of COVID patients admitted to hospitals represents approximately 10 percent of the state’s hospital beds.

“I appreciate our doctors, our hospitals and our hospital workers,” he said. “They are doing a great job over a long period of time.”

Romero said he believes the spike in cases is attributable to gatherings around the Halloween holiday, and said it is, “a harbinger, something we may see even more significantly as we enter into Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.”

“We are expecting that come Thanksgiving, that if the recommendations are not adhered to, the same three tenants — masking, social distancing, and washing of hands — this will continue to increase,” he said. “I strongly discourage that persons living assisted living or congregate settings be taken away from those settings and have Thanksgiving or holidays with family.”

During his weekly news briefing about the pandemic Tuesday, Hutchinson also revealed new guidelines for faith communities gathering for in-person worship.

The new guidance includes:

4Masks soul be worn at all times by all congregants, except those who are exempt under Arkansas Department of Health guidelines.

“Masks are the biggest factor that contribute to safe worship,” Hutchinson said.

4Strict six-foot physical distancing applying to all except family groups, both indoors and outdoors.

The governor’s guidance also included a note that unmasked congregational singing, “is the primary driver of transmission in churches — even if the people are six feet apart.”

“Singing produces aerosols that can increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19,” Hutchinson said. “We respect the separation of church and state, and they will make their own decision on governance of how they do things, but we ask them to take under consideration the guidelines.”

Dr. Sonny Tucker, the executive director of the Arkansas Baptist Convention said it is important for churches to follow the safety guidelines and precautions, and to remember that churches are supposed to respond to two motivating factors — love of God, and love of people.

“We show our respect for God when we engage with great safety and great precautions for the great people God has allowed us to love.”

The Rev. Erik Pohlmeier, the pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Little Rock, said wearing a mask in times like this is a natural extension of worship. 

“It is not just a question of do I want to wear a mask or not,” he said. “In the practice of charity, in the practice of justice, we need to be mindful of other people, of people who might be more vulnerable than we are. Our faith is not meant to be limited to when we worship. It extends to how we live our life.”

Nationally, 10,242,754 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed since the pandemic began. Of those, 3,961,873 are considered completely recovered and 239,618 have died.

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