Coronavirus Graphic

After a single-day increase of 82 COVID-19 cases Monday, Arkansas has topped 500 confirmed cases, while projections indicate that as many as 15,000 Arkansans could be hospitalized because of the virus.

By the end of the day Tuesday, there were 523 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas, with eight dead from the virus, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. At the time of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily press briefing Sunday, the ADH had confirmed 426 cases, and at the time of his briefing Monday there were 473 cases.

Projections for the future show that Arkansas could reach 3,500 cases by April 10, but the numbers are currently below the trend line, Hutchinson said in his Tuesday briefing.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 64 patients were in the hospital, up two from Monday, said Nate Smith, director and state health officer for the Arkansas Department of Health. Twenty-three were on ventilators and 35 had recovered.

Of the 523 cases confirmed by Tuesday afternoon, 17 are children, 158 are adults aged 65 or older, and 348 are adults aged 18-64, Smith said. Six are pregnant women and 79 are healthcare workers.

Projections for future COVID-19-related hospitalizations range from 2,000 to 15,000 based on varying models, Hutchinson said at his daily briefing Friday. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has projected that 249-501 ventilators will be needed in Arkansas on the state’s date of peak resource use on April 20.

Hutchinson’s goal is to avoid reaching those numbers, but he is preparing the state for the possible worst-case scenario, he said.

“Our plan is to do all we can to beat the worst models or the worst-case scenario and to reduce the case number and hospitalization rate,” Hutchinson said.

Officials have placed an order for 500 ventilators for the state, “a massive expansion of our current capacity,” Hutchinson said Friday. The governor authorized 10 additional National Guard personnel to assist the Arkansas Department of Health and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in planning for additional hospital bed needs, he said.

Hutchinson announced Monday that he had approved $45 million in additional funding for the purchase of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

“That is what is needed to plan for the future. We want to get ahead of the curve and make sure that we don’t have to make difficult choices down the road,” Hutchinson said.

On Saturday, Smith urged Arkansans to continue practicing social distancing in order to slow the spread of the disease and avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. Because of a national shortage of COVID-19 testing materials and lab capacity, Arkansas health providers cannot administer as many tests as they wish to, he said. 

By Monday, the U.S. had performed 944,854 COVID-19 tests, an average of about 2,888 tests per million people, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Arkansas state and private labs had been able to test 6,028 people, an average of 2,000 tests per million people, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

In contrast, South Korea, which detected its first case the same day as the U.S., had performed 381,663 tests, an average of about 7,415 tests per million people, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Arkansas, testing priority is given to health care workers, patients who are hospitalized or in nursing homes, people 65 or older with symptoms and those with chronic underlying conditions, Smith said.

Some people will carry the virus without being formally diagnosed, so Arkansans should do all they can to avoid spreading it, Smith said. He urged Arkansans to not only avoid public spaces and social gatherings, but to limit events such as weddings and funerals to only a few close family members.

“It would be a terrible and tragic thing if individuals became infected and became sick, maybe in the hospital or worse, because they gathered together at what was supposed to be a happy occasion,” Smith said.

Sarah Komar is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

Abbi Ross is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since March 2019.

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