JONESBORO — The White House Coronavirus Task Force says the situation is worsening in Arkansas and is recommending limiting restaurants’ indoor capacity in most of the state to less than 25 percent and curtailing athletic events.
The task force recommended the limit on capacity in the 52 counties classified as “red” or “orange,” calling it an effective practice. The panel’s report, released Tuesday, also recommends limiting bar hours in those counties until the rate of new cases and test positivity decreases.
All counties in Northeast Arkansas are classified in the red zone.
Arkansas currently limits bars, restaurants and other businesses to two-thirds capacity. While Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his weekly press briefing Tuesday he would reject that recommendation, he read directly from the task force report to emphasize how serious the situation is.
“’Arkansas is on the precipice of a rapid, accelerating increase in cases, which will be followed with new hospital admissions.’ Now that’s a statement that’ll get your attention as a leader,” Hutchinson said. “And as we look at the holiday season that is approaching, we have to be mindful that if Arkansas continues at the present pace over the last two days, then Arkansas will have an additional 1,000 Arkansans that will die as a result of COVID-19 between now and Christmas.”
The governor said reducing capacity for restaurants and bars would put too many of them out of business at a time when Congress has not agreed on a new aid package.
The state had 1,145 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 through PCR tests and another 409 probable cases stemming from the less reliable antigen tests. The death toll rose by 20 to 2,245. The Arkansas Department of Health said there were 16,576 active cases. hospitalizations rose by 34 to 895 statewide.
Of those hospitalizations, 177 were in hospitals in Northeast Arkansas. Ty Jones, spokesman for NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro, said 56 positive patients were being treated there, including 22 in intensive care. Ten were on ventilators.
“We’ve seen our employee medical quarantines trend down, which has helped us maintain adequate staffing in both the hospital and clinic areas,” Jones told The Sun. “Leadership is continuously monitoring our number of patients and level of acuity to determine how to best utilize our available space. It deserves saying that our employees have been tremendous through it all. They have provided support to one another emotionally, spiritually and physically by helping to share the load with positive patients on the floor.
“We have team members cross-trained in other areas who have made themselves available if the need arises that they be able to provide care where needed. The over 2,100 employees at NEA Baptist stand ready to care for this community through the duration of this pandemic.”
Hutchinson said he would be involved in a conference call with President-elect Joe Biden and his transition team on Thursday.
“That call is set up so that Vice President Biden can get the information he needs from the states as his transition team starts to prepare for Jan. 20th and what we expect will be a necessary transition,” Hutchinson said. “And that is important from my standpoint so that they’re aware what Arkansas is doing as a state, what other states are doing to fight this pandemic.”
Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Monday:
Craighead – 5,596 confirmed (up 63 from Monday), 528 probable (up 1), 721 active cases (down 75); 63 confirmed deaths, 6 probable.
Greene – 1,890 confirmed (up 27), 387 probable (up 22); 418 active (up 9); 24 confirmed deaths, 2 probable.
Lawrence – 903 confirmed (up 7), 134 probable (up 2); 97 active (down 5); 27 confirmed deaths.
Poinsett – 1,351 confirmed (up 15), 144 probable (up 5); 211 active (unchanged); 32 confirmed deaths, 5 probable.
Mississippi – 2,665 confirmed (up 26), 204 probable (up 2); 297 active cases (down 3); 64 confirmed deaths, 13 probable.
Jackson – 1,016 confirmed (up 13), 271 probable (up 6); 301 active cases (up 1); 5 confirmed deaths, 1 probable.
Randolph – 684 confirmed (up 14), 175 probable (unchanged); 126 active cases (up 11); 22 confirmed deaths, 6 probable.
Cross – 617 confirmed (up 16), 111 probable (up 27); 72 active cases (up 17); 22 confirmed deaths, 2 probable.
Clay – 602 confirmed (up 12), 111 probable (up 102); 152 active cases (up 4); 15 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.