Arkansas reported 784 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while the number of patients hospitalized reached a new high of 526, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The number of known positive cases in the state now stands at 45,381.
Seven patients were removed from ventilators, for a current total of 101, but 15 more Arkansans died in the past 24 hours, bringing the statewide death toll to 490.
Of the new cases announced Tuesday, 10 are from correctional facilities, said Dr. Jose Romero, Hutchinson’s interim secretary of health.
Growth in new cases has stalled in Northwest Arkansas, but cases are rising in other regions.
Pulaski County reported the most new cases Tuesday with 149. Other counties reporting over 20 new cases include Sebastian (56), Mississippi (55), Washington (45), Benton (35), Saline (25), Crittenden (24) and Jefferson (23).
Several other counties have reported numbers in the 20-30 range over the past week, including Craighead, Garland, Independence, Little River, Logan and Union.
The governor said 5,840 tests were conducted on Monday, which is down a bit from when the state typically reported over 6,000 tests per day over the past two months.
The decline, however, started in July and caused the state to fall short of the governor’s goal to test 200,000 people that month. Total tests in July were recorded at 194,836.
Hutchinson’s goal for August is to conduct 190,000 tests.
Governor warns about pandemic fraud
Hutchinson said he recently received a letter in the mail informing him he has been approved for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which he said he neither applied for nor is entitled to receive.
The governor said the letter is one of potentially thousands like it that have been sent to Arkansans as part of an international fraud scheme that’s under investigation by the FBI.
The idea, he said, is that an individual will respond to the letter with approval for the funds which would then be directly deposited into a fraudster’s bank account.
“That happened to me, and it can happen to anyone,” said Hutchinson.
Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said thousands of unemployment claims are currently on hold in Arkansas because of the scheme.
“We’re having to unfortunately flag more claims than we normally would to stop the fraud that’s coming in,” said Preston, who noted that approximately 27,000 PUA claims have been flagged and put on hold, along with another 10,000 unemployment insurance claims.
“We are trying to get through that backlog so we can make payments to those that are in need of that payment and who rightfully deserve that payment,” he said. “But we have to do our due diligence because we don’t want to pay claims to fraudsters.”
Preston said the state would have to reimburse the federal government for any payments that are deemed to have been fraudulent.
Anyone whose claim has been put on hold should receive a letter in the next few days that explains how to verify that information, Preston said.
Anyone who receives a letter like that but who didn’t apply for unemployment should immediately report the incident to the state by calling 501-682-1058, emailing ADWS.InternalAudit@Arkansas.gov, filing a fraud report at www.DWS.Arkansas.gov, and filing a police report.
High school football cleared
The governor on Friday announced that high school football teams across the state can begin practicing with helmets this week, which marks the beginning of fall practice for the Arkansas Activities Association’s 2020-21 season.
Hutchinson said he’s asked AAA to develop a formal practice and game plan for the season to be reviewed by the Health Department.
Schools are set to open in Arkansas on Aug. 24 with high school football scheduled to begin three days later.
An advisory group is expected to begin meeting this week to help develop guidelines for football, volleyball and cheerleading.
Guidelines for choir and band are also in the works, the governor said.