COVID COVERAGE

The COVID-19 pandemic has now claimed three lives in Ashley County.

While the Arkansas Department of Health has not identified the victims, in its online database the ADH recorded in the last week that prior to July 1 only one person in Ashley County had died of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus that first emerged in 2019. As of Tuesday, that count has increased to three.

Ashley County currently has 33 active cases of the virus, while 74 of the confirmed cases have recovered since being diagnosed. In neighboring Chicot County, 65 patients have active COVID cases and three people have died; Union County also has 33 active cases but has logged 14 deaths.

As of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily COVID update Tuesday, the number of recorded cases across the state had increased by 748 to make 29,733 since the pandemic was first recorded in Arkansas March 11. Of the total cases, 6,058 are considered active, 445 are currently hospitalized and 331 people have died.

Dr. Nate Smith, Arkansas’s state health director, said Tuesday that for the prior three days the public health lab had tested more patients each day than it had in the entire month of March. Getting tests done quickly is key to containing the spread of the virus, he said.

“We are still having some individuals having to wait far too long to get their results,” Smith said.

The state’s Congressional delegation has written a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the nation’s COVID strategy task force, asking for federal support to expand testing capacity in commercial laboratories.

“Our challenge is the slow response coming from commercial labs,” Hutchinson said.

As they have repeatedly in recent weeks, the officials emphasized that, while the state has a strategy of testing, tracing and isolating positive cases to contain the spread of the virus — which the governor said is being done “vigorously” — responsibility also lies with residents not to spread it.

“The other strategy is the individual responsibility of social distancing and wearing masks,” Hutchinson said. “These are all critical elements that feed in together to have a complete state strategy.”

“Our goal is to save lives, reduce the burden on hospitals and allow movement for commerce.”

Smith likewise advised avoiding large congregate settings when possible.

Rather than declare a mask mandate as some states have — notably neighboring Louisiana and Mississippi, effective as of this week — Hutchinson has signed an executive order that allows cities to make their own mandates using a model ordinance that does not penalize individuals for the failure to wear a mask. Instead, it gives cities and law enforcement the authority to work with private businesses that want to enforce the use of face coverings on their premises

The eight cities that have enacted the ordinance — Fayetteville, Little Rock, Conway, Rogers, Hot Springs, North Little Rock, Helena-West Helena and Tonitown — are all in areas that have seen significant numbers of cases.

Crossett Mayor Crystal Marshall said the city administration has not made a decision about the ordinance.

“We remain committed to monitoring the situation closely and working with our health care experts,” she said. “We encourage everyone to wear masks and follow social distancing.”

The Arkansas Department of Health’s most recent guidance on wearing face masks states that, “A recent modeling study reported that when face masks are used by a majority of the population in public settings (not just symptomatic people), the effective reproductive number for SARS-COV-2 falls below 1.0. This would decrease the spread of COVID-19, flatten future disease waves, and allow people to resume normal activities with greatly reduced risk.”

The ADH’s official recommendation is that, “The general public should wear face coverings in all indoor environments where they are exposed to non-household members and distancing of six feet or more cannot be assured,” and that “the general public should also wear face coverings at all outdoor settings where they are exposed to non-household members, unless there is ample space (six feet or more) to practice physical distancing.”

Health officials continue to stress vigorous hand washing as a precautionary measure.

Nationally, the United States has confirmed 3.43 million cases of COVID-19.

Approximately 1 million people are considered recovered from the infection, and approximately 138,000 people have died.

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