Referring to Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones’s line in the face of adversity that he had not yet begun to fight, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that Arkansas, too, is willing to fight in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are some who say we are losing the battle as we fight this virus and we just have to live with it,” Hutchinson said. “While this is a tough time and we know we are going to go through a tough time in the winter, we have to be prepared to fight and I am prepared to fight. While these are difficult times I want everyone to know when I wake up in the morning I wake up thinking what more can we do.”
His comments came at a briefing Tuesday during which he announced that Arkansas had seen its highest week of new confirmed cases of the virus and was at a record level of confirmed cases.
Over the 24 hours prior to the briefing, the state had seen 952 confirmed and probable cases recorded. Probable cases are those diagnosed using antigen testing rather than the preferred and more reliable Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
The additional cases brought the state to a total of 9,571 active cases of COVID-19.
In Ashley County, cases were not at their record high but continued the upward climb of recent weeks, up from 36 on Oct. 19 to 47 on Oct. 27. Eleven Ashley County residents have died of complications arising from the virus since the pandemic reached Arkansas in March.
Statewide, 106,727 people — approximately 4 percent of the population — have been diagnosed with COVID-19. A number of other cases have not been counted because many COVID infections are asymptomatic.
Hutchinson said Tuesday that some people are characterizing the current increase in cases as a third wave. Rising with the wave — a reference to the shape of the data on charts documenting the pandemic — has been hospitalizations. A total of 676 Arkansans were hospitalized in connection with the pandemic Tuesday.
“In talking to the hospitals, they have capacity for the patients,” Hutchinson said. “What we don’t want to have to happen is that we cut back on elective procedures. Those are important to the economic health of the hospitals, but also to the health of our patients.”
Even with the rise in cases, however, the governor noted that two age groups — K-12 students and college-age people — have seen decreases in active cases. That indicates that younger people are taking the risks of COVID more seriously and are using self-control, he said.
“It indicates that we can control behavior and can mitigate against the risk,” he said.
The Arkansas Department of Health’s Oct. 26 report of active cases in school districts reported that Crossett School District and Hamburg School District both had six active cases. Crossett has had a cumulative total of 11 faculty and staff cases and 20 student cases, while Hamburg has had a total of six faculty and staff cases and 15 student cases. The Strong School District was not listed in the Oct. 26 report, meaning it had fewer than five active cases.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for when people should quarantine following exposure to a COVID-infected person. The guidance now states that, “Someone who was within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from two days before illness onset — or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to test specimen collection — until the time the patient is isolated” should, “Stay home until 14 days after last exposure and maintain social distance (at least six feet) from others at all times,” and self-monitor for symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
In making the change, the CDC noted that the exposure of 15 minutes over 24 hours should be understood as individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period, for example, “three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes.” “Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define ‘close contact;’ however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of six feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation,” the updated guidance said.