Though Tuesday was the first day since the presence of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state of Arkansas that saw no new cases, state officials said they expect to see the total rise from 22 lab-confirmed cases in coming days.
They also said that supply chains will remain open and stores will remain stocked despite rounds of panic buying in recent days.
“We need to be calm and recognize that the food supply will continue, the fuel supply will continue,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in his daily update Tuesday. “Be sure you need to have adequate supplies in the home, but we don’t need to engage in panic buying.”
Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Nate Smith said the state has had almost 200 negative test results since the department started testing.
“As we scale up testing, though, and as we start to get additional results from commercial labs, I suspect we will get additional cases,” he said.
“COVID-19 really is an invisible storm. We are at the beginning of the storm, but our partnership with you and your communities is helping us to prepare for this storm and to weather this storm.”
Testing is currently being done in three ways in Arkansas, Hutchinson said. Tests are being performed by the ADH, through labs developing their own testing capacities, and through doctors and hospitals using commercially available tests, which usually requires a two-day delay.
The governor said he was confident that in the next three or four days the state would see a greater number of test results and a greater number of tests available.
The state needs to be able to make time-sensitive decisions, Smith said, and that is why what can be done at the state lab is being scaled up.
“(We are doing that) for when we need that information not days later but hours later,” he said.
Hutchinson praised healthcare workers in the state, saying they have done a tremendous job responding so far. The governor said he understands that the availability of personal protective equipment is a concern for some, but that the ADH has adequate supplies at this time.
“Right now our Department of Health has a good inventory, and we are making that available to health care providers as the need progresses.”
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key said at this time he still anticipates students across the state will return to the classroom March 30 following the mandatory two-weeks away that the state initiated starting Tuesday, though the second week was already planned for Spring Break.
Key said students have a need for routines, access to nutritional meals, and the relationships they have with their teachers.
“We want to restore that as soon as possible,” he said.
In the coming week the education department will be looking at what reentry into the schools looks like following the mass closures, he said.
“You will have situations in our schools where you have medically sensitive students and medically sensitive staff,” Key said. “We are asking school districts to extend the greatest flexibility.
“We look forward to having our students back March 30, prepared to learn and ready to reestablish that continuity of education.”
Hutchinson said he knows that social distancing practices that have been recommended — including cancelling many public events and staying home whenever possible and especially if sick— is difficult, but that for the time being that, “We have to adjust to this new normal.”
In some cases, that will affect employees. Hutchinson said he had instructed the state commerce department to waive the eligibility period for unemployment insurance and allow clients to apply online, as well as waive work requirements.
“This will be a relief to anyone who is laid off so that they more get more quickly cash assistance to make sure their families are cared for,” he said. “Hopefully this is a temporary event.”
The governor also praised the residents of the state for showing resilience in light of the increasing recommended — and sometimes mandated — restrictions. The creativity shown in helping people in recent days has been, “amazing,” he said.
“I am very proud of the way we have been supporting everybody, neighbor to neighbor,” Hutchinson said. “Even as we keep social distance, the love is still there.
“We want to keep moving in Arkansas, pulling together and get over this challenge we face.”
The Arkansas Department of Health has offered a list of general precautions to protect from COVID-19 infection, which can cause extreme respiratory distress and even death.
The tips include:
-Avoiding close contact with sick people
-Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands
4Staying home when you are sick
-Covering all coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands
-Coughing and sneezing into your elbow instead of on your hand
-Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces with a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
The ADH is also encouraging businesses to make plans for if an outbreak should occur. General preparations the ADH recommends for organizations include:
-Making sure all sick employees or students stay home until they no longer have symptoms. Provide ways to work remotely or have policies in place to allow employees to miss days. Sick family members should stay home from work or school.
-Separating sick employees, students, or family members with respiratory symptoms like excessive coughing and sneezing from others, while encouraging them to cover their mouths while coughing and sneezing.
-Performing routine environmental cleaning.
-Considering refraining from shaking hands.