JONESBORO — A day after 270 doctors from around Arkansas urged Gov Asa Hutchinson to impose new restrictions to curb a surge in coronavirus cases, the governor announced restaurants and bars serving alcohol must close by 11 p.m. daily.
The announcement came Thursday as Craighead County recorded 102 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which is caused by the virus that has swept aggressively across the country, and Greene County had 58 more cases.
Poinsett and Cross counties had one confirmed new death each on Thursday. Jackson County also had a huge spike in confirmed infections, likely due to an outbreak at one of the state’s prisons in Newport.
Statewide, 1,684 confirmed cases were found among 11,560 PCR tests, and 2,034 antigen tests found another 554 probable infections. The percentage of positive PCR results in Craighead and all counties surrounding it was above 10 percent, including 12 percent in Craighead, 17 percent in Greene and 14.2 percent in Poinsett.
The total of confirmed cases since the pandemic reached Arkansas rose to 124,165, and the death toll rose by 20 to 2,105, with an additional 192 deaths listed as probable COVID cases.
Hutchinson said he would hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. today to address the issue of hospital crowding. Statewide, 899 people were hospitalized with the disease, including 353 in intensive care and 143 on ventilators. In the Northeastern region 171 were hospitalized and 47 were in ICUs, including 17 on ventilators.
In Wednesday’s open letter, the doctors warned of the health care system being strained by the rise in cases. They urged the Republican governor to close bars and gyms, and limit restaurants to takeout service only. They also called on him to limit indoor gatherings to less than 10 people.
“Our hospitals are filling up to the brim, and the virus is continuing to spread unchecked in our communities, meaning that the worst is approaching,” the letter delivered to Hutchinson’s office said. “Soon we will shoot past our capacity to care for patients.”
Hutchinson responded with a letter to the physicians, in which he noted the current capacity limits for restaurants and bars and other social distancing requirements in place for gyms. He also cited the state’s mask mandate.
“Please be assured I share your commitment to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas, and I recognize the importance of maintaining our hospital capacity,” he wrote. “I will continue to be guided by the expertise and experience of public health officials and evaluate appropriate actions to mitigate the impact on our hospital capacity.”
As of Wednesday, about 27 percent percent of the state’s 9,144 hospital beds and 7 percent of the state’s 1,124 intensive care unit beds were available, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Thursday:
Craighead – 5,766 confirmed (up 102 from Wednesday), 553 probable (up 11), 757 active cases (down 3); 64 confirmed deaths, 6 probable.
Greene – 1,992 confirmed (up 58), 409 probable (up 13); 314 active (down 111); 24 confirmed deaths, 2 probable.
Lawrence – 921 confirmed (up 13), 133 probable (unchanged); 100 active (up 4); 27 confirmed deaths.
Poinsett – 1,403 confirmed (up 36), 149 probable (up 2); 205 active (up 27); 33 confirmed deaths, 5 probable.
Mississippi – 2,727 confirmed (up 38), 176 probable (down 27); 267 active cases (down 1); 65 confirmed deaths, 14 probable.
Jackson – 1,188 confirmed (up 101), 276 probable (up 3); 448 active cases (up 99); 5 confirmed deaths, 1 probable.
Randolph – 716 confirmed (up 16), 176 probable (up 2); 120 active cases (down 5); 22 confirmed deaths, 6 probable.
Cross – 630 confirmed (up 7), 94 probable (up 2); 77 active cases (up 2); 23 confirmed deaths, 2 probable.
Clay – 618 confirmed (up 10), 124 probable (up 4); 156 active cases (up 2); 15 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.