by Tyler Hale
Arkansas officials have confirmed that there is now a presumptive case of coronavirus in the state.
During a press conference held Wednesday, March 11, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that an individual in Pine Bluff has tested positive for COVID-19. Officials are referring to this as a presumptive case because, while the Arkansas Department of Health has tested the individual, it has not been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control.
Currently, the individual is being held in isolation in a Pine Bluff-area hospital, according to Hutchinson, and a health department team has been dispatched to the facility. This unidentified patient reportedly has an out-of-state travel history.
Hutchinson will be signing an executive order declaring a public health emergency as a result of the first coronavirus case.
While there have been numerous individuals investigated for the possibility of COVID-19, this is the first instance of the disease in Arkansas. According to the state Health Department website, there have been 111 recent travelers monitored for COVID-19. Fourteen individuals are currently under investigation, and 12 individuals who were under investigation had negative test results for the virus.
Hutchinson said that state agencies have reviewed their policies and responses to the coronavirus but he insisted that state operations will not be disrupted by the disease.
“This is, again, our first case in Arkansas, and that has triggered a number of important initiatives that we need to do as a state,” he said. “I’ve directed, as I said, each cabinet department to review their plans to make sure that we are prepared. Each plan was presented to us today, and essential state services will continue in the event that the coronavirus is beyond what we see right now in our state.”
State employees will not be operating remotely at the present time, but Hutchinson says there are plans for remote work if there is a “necessity” to continue operations. However, Hutchinson has instituted a new 60-day travel restriction for state employees.
“There will be no out of state travel without the approval of a cabinet secretary, Hutchinson says. “The approval will be based on guidance from the Department of Health and the urgency of the travel.”
Hutchinson says the restrictions do not constitute a travel ban because the approvals will be made on a case-by-case basis. “We want to continue to do business. We want people to continue to do business with Arkansas just like they do in the private sector,” he says.
For the general public, Hutchinson urges Arkansas citizens to reconsider their spring break plans. Vacation plans that involve mass gatherings, he cautions, should be reconsidered.
However, he says that the state is not advising conferences and other gatherings to cancel.
“We want our economic growth to continue,” Hutchinson says. “We’re going to be doing business in Arkansas.”
Dr. Nate Green, Department of Health secretary, says the first coronavirus case was expected, as surrounding states have already experienced cases. At the press conference, Smith said there was no evidence that the patient had spread the virus in the Pine Bluff area.
“We were prepared for this possibility and are acting on it,” he said. “At this point, we don’t have evidence of spread in the Pine Bluff area or elsewhere in the state.”
Coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization today. According to WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the spread of the virus has increased by a factor of 13 over the past two weeks. He urged governments to take “urgent and aggressive action” toward the virus.
Globally, there have been 121,564 cases of COVID-19 with 4,373 deaths as of March 11. In the United States, there have been approximately 1,050 cases of COVID-19.