UPDATE, March 16: The number of coronavirus cases in Arkansas has grown to 16, the Arkansas Department of Health has confirmed. All cases are limited to Pulaski, Jefferson and Saline counties (not Grant as originally reported).
(Saturday, March 14) — Three more coronavirus cases in Arkansas were announced in a Saturday afternoon press conference at the Department of Health building.
Healthcare officials joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said that three new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, cases have been presumptively confirmed. These three cases have been connected to the original Pine Bluff patient.
All of the coronavirus cases are healthcare workers at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. Dr. Nathaniel Smith, the state’s chief medical officer, said the three new patients are in isolation but have not been hospitalized.
This brings the total number of Arkansas cases to 12.
There are currently four clusters of coronavirus in Arkansas, Smith said. He expects that health officials will find more clusters as testing continues. The ADH website lists 206 individuals as being monitored with 26 individuals being actively investigated. “Right now, there are lots of gaps in our knowledge in regards to epidemiology,” Smith said.
Hutchinson echoed Smith’s statement, saying, ““What we’re most concerned about is what we don’t know.”
Coronavirus is proving challenging because of its high level of transmissibility. Smith characterized the virus as a “highly communicable virus” that is able to infect large parts of the population in a short amount of time.
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson says the coronavirus response is hitting two “bottlenecks.” The first bottleneck is the ability to test for the virus. Currently, the Department of Health can perform approximately 20 COVID-19 tests per day. UAMS and state leaders are working to obtain a new machine that will allow for more tests – up to 160 tests per day.
The second bottleneck, Patterson said, is well individuals coming into hospitals and clinics who believe that they are infected. These individuals, he said, should use telemedicine or contact their physician before coming into a healthcare facility.
Hutchinson has mobilized the Arkansas National Guard to respond to the growing coronavirus outbreak in the state. This move, he said, is part of the state’s effort to contain the public health emergency. During this time, the National Guard is expected to help manage transportation, logistics and provide call center assistance.
Hutchinson declared a public health emergency on March 11, which he modified March 13. President Donald Trump also declared a national state of emergency in response to the virus.
As part of the national health emergency, Trump ordered all 50 states to establish emergency operation centers. According to Hutchinson, a center has already been established in Arkansas and is operational.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) has also been mobilized to contend with COVID-19. According to ADEM Director A.J. Gary, the department is currently at Level 1. The department’s website lists three levels of ADEM awareness from Level 3 to Level 1, with Level 3 indicating “normal operations,” Level 2 indicating “increased preparedness” and Level 1 indicating “activation.”
Gary says he is actively in contact with county and local leadership to address coronavirus concerns.