COVID-19 has claimed a fourth life in Ashley County.
While the patient in question has not been identified, the Arkansas Department of Health recorded the death in its COVID statistics online last week. As of Tuesday, across the state 428 people had died of complications arising from being infected with the novel coronavirus that has spread across the globe in recent months.
Ashley County has fared better than some parts of the state, recording 187 cases since the virus arrived in Arkansas in March. As of Tuesday afternoon, the county was host to 57 active cases.
Statewide, the number of active cases Tuesday was 6,565, bringing the total number of infections — including those who have recovered — to 40,181.
A total of 501 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at the time those numbers were taken.
“These are not good numbers,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his daily news conference Tuesday. “When we have gone over the 40,000 number mark cumulatively, when we have gone over 500 in hospitalizations, those are both high water numbers for us.”
The governor has faced scrutiny and pushback since a mask mandate he implemented went into effect July 20, but Tuesday Hutchinson defended the order, saying it was a “hard decision” that he had to make for the sake of public health.
“When you see the cases go up, the numbers go up, what is happening with our health care workers — the pressure they’re under — this was the decision that had to be made.”
Hutchinson noted that Arkansas had resisted a stay-at-home order and shutting down all businesses like other states have done in response to the pandemic, but he said the mask order was the right thing to do and it was done in consultation with the state’s public health team.
“It is a matter of balancing the priority of public health and getting a handle on the deaths and the cases we see from the viruses,” he said.
Hutchinson said he identified with the “independent spirit of Arkansans” that sometimes wants to resist government mandates, but he said he believes overall that residents are doing the right thing.
“We see great levels of compliance, and we would like to see more,” he said. “As someone said, if you want to have school this year, if you want to have sports this year, the best thing to do is to wear a mask, to socially distance, to protect ourselves and reduce that spread,” he said.
This week the governor also announced that he would be allocating $10 million to provide wi-fi access points to schools so that students can work remotely should the pandemic force them out of the traditional classroom. The funds would come from the governor’s emergency education relief fund, he said.
The allocation will provide 20,000 devices that students will be able to take home so that they can access school work online, he said, and will be provided with 24 months of data service free of cost to the families and students.
“They will take them home so they won’t have to sit around a bus or go to McDonald’s to get their work done,” he said.
In the United States, 4.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed with laboratory tests. Of the confirmed cases, approximately 151,000 U.S. patients have died.