Arkansas has reported the highest increase in positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said total cases reached 5,458 on Thursday, an increase of 455 since Wednesday. Smith said over half of the cases came from inside the Forrest City correctional facility.
“These were cases we already knew about,” said Smith. “But they had not yet entered into our system yet because they were done at various labs through the testing efforts of the CDC and the bureau of corrections.”
Smith said although the correctional facility reports aren’t necessarily new cases, the 226 cases from the community at large are a concern.
He said the plan is to look closer to try and determine if the spike is reflective of the state’s push toward more testing or if they represent a new outbreak.
“We don’t go from 80 to 226 overnight because of new infections,” Smith said. “COVID-19 spreads fast, but it doesn’t spread that fast in a single day, so this is likely a matter of increased testing.
Smith said in the first three weeks of May the state has tested almost as many people as it had during all previous weeks of the pandemic combined.
He said testing numbers in general are up, but so is the scope.
“We’re now testing not just those who are symptomatic, but also those who are asymptomatic who have had contact with a positive patient or who are living in an area of higher transmission,” Smith said.
The new cases are spread across the state, Smith said, including 33 new cases in Yell County, 27 in Benton County, 26 in Washington County, 19 in Union County, 17 in Craighead County, 17 in Crittenden County, 14 in Pope County and 13 in Pulaski County.
Smith said while he’s concerned about the spike, he’s encouraged to identify the new cases.
“We can’t interrupt chains of transmission if we don’t know about them,” he said.
Of the 1,433 active cases, 543 are from inside correctional facilities across the state, 94 are in nursing homes, and 796 are in the general community, Smith said.
Hospitalizations are up seven to 86, and there were three additional deaths overnight, bringing the toll to 110.
Limited-contact team sports to resume
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said limited-contact team sports practice and competition can resume June 1 with some limitations. Those sports include baseball, gymnastics, softball, swimming and track.
He said physical distancing should occur amongst athletes except while actively playing, and the same goes for wearing masks. Coaches and staff must wear masks at all times.
Players should avoid huddles, high fives and any other non-sport related contact. Showers are prohibited, and locker rooms should only be used for storage.
Close-contact sports practices and competition remain prohibited, including basketball, football, martial arts, soccer, volleyball and wrestling. Hutchinson said individual practice with an athlete’s own equipment is permitted, as well as conditioning and training with limited group sizes and physical distancing. Hutchinson said he’ll revisit those sports on June 30 to determine if they can begin to resume practicing and competing.
Cheerleading and dance, he said, can practice under the already announced rules for gyms.
Hutchinson said while it’s not the best-case scenario, he’s personally happy to see some return of sports.
“I’m delighted that we can play some ball,” he said. “Even if it’s under challenging circumstances and with some restrictions that we’re not used to.”