(07/16/20) Statewide mask mandate begins July 20

Garland County has 43 new cases in past two days

The following statistics were shared Thursday, July 16, at Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily COVID-19 news conference in Little Rock and posted on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website:

  • 31,114 total confirmed cases, up 817 from 30,297 on Wednesday.
  • 6,578 active cases, up 139 from Wednesday.
  • 24,195 recoveries, up 672 from Wednesday.
  • 341 deaths, up six from Wednesday.
  • 470 cases requiring hospitalization, up 12 from Wednesday.
  • 101 cases requiring a ventilator, up seven from Wednesday.  
  • 366 cumulative cases in Garland County, up 19 from Wednesday.
  • 69 active cases in Garland County, down two from Wednesday.
  • 292 recoveries in Garland County, up 19 from Wednesday.
  • 5 deaths in Garland County, up two from Wednesday.

In the past 24 hours, the number of new cases was 817, with 81 from correctional facilities and 736 from the community. This number is the third highest single-day total for both overall new cases and community cases to-date. The counties with the highest number of new cases were Pulaski (114), Washington (68), Benton (48), Sebastian (43), Pope (40), Faulkner (27), Yell (26), Garland (24), Craighead (22) and Arkansas (20). There was a total of 6,020 test results reported in the past 24 hours.  

Hutchinson announced that a statewide face coverings mandate will begin on Monday, July 20. He said this is necessary because “the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are numbers that speak for themselves and indicate that we need to do more.” Secondly, he said he has “listened to doctors and nurses who have been on the front line in this fight, and they ask the public to do more.” Thirdly, he said he has heard from legislators “that have a lot of different views, but many of them simply say, ‘I don’t like it, but whatever it takes, let’s get through this and give us the best chance for normal activities in the future.’”

Another very significant reason Hutchinson gave was “for our children and grandchildren,” who will be returning to school this year and will most often be required to wear face coverings. “If you’re going to ask the children in the school setting to wear face coverings for everyone’s health and safety, then the adults must help them to be ready and set the right example for them.”

Lastly, he said that “this whole fight against COVID-19 is likely to get harder, and not easier, and we have to meet the challenge together, and everyone must do their part, and this is a way to enlist the support of everyone in this fight.”

The mandate says that face masks must cover the mouth and nose. It is for all indoor and outdoor environments where there is exposure to non-household members and distancing of at least 6 feet or more. Exceptions are included for persons younger than 10; with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering; performing job duties or participating in athletic activities in which a mask is inhibitory to the ability to safely and effectively perform; consuming food or drink; driving alone or with passengers from the driver’s household; receiving services that require access to the face for security, surveillance or other purposes; voting, assisting voters, serving as poll watchers or performing administration duties (although strongly encouraged); engaged in religious worship activities (although strongly encouraged); giving a speech or performance for broadcast or to an audience (distancing is required); in counties where ADH has certified that risk of community transmission is low.

As with other executive orders, it does have the force and effect of law. Violation of a directive from the Secretary of Health during this public health emergency is a misdemeanor offence, and upon conviction punishable by a fine of not less than $100 and no more than $500. Law enforcement and local officials have the authority and are encouraged to enforce this directive by giving first-time violators a warning. Those under 18 years of age will only receive a verbal or written warning. No law enforcement officer or local official may detain, arrest or confine in jail any person for violation of this order, and this order shall not prohibit law enforcement or local officials from enforcing trespassing laws or other applicable laws in removing violators at the request of businesses or other property owners.

Cities and counties may issue local ordinances that consistent with this order, but they cannot impose any measure that is in conflict with a directive or guideline issued by the Secretary of Health, in consultation with the Governor. This order will expire upon the termination of the current emergency.

Dr. Jose Romero, who gave the report for the Arkansas Department of Health in Dr. Nate Smith’s absence, said, “I am, and we at the Health Department, are extremely thankful to the governor for this mask mandate.”

Troy Wells, CEO of Baptist Health Centers, gave perspective on ICU capacity in the state. He said Baptist Health has 200 ICU beds in their major facilities across the state. One month ago on June 18, when Baptist Health had their highest ICU census of the pandemic, there were 181 ICU patients, including 16 COVID positives. Today, their ICU census is 161, but there are now 32 COVID-positive patients and 19 on ventilators. He said there are still plenty of ventilators available. He added that all of the regional hospitals in the state that have ICU beds are typically running between 85-95%, even before the pandemic, and that is something they monitor daily. Each hospital also has a surge plan.

Baptist Health is limited on internal testing due to the supply chain of reagents, according to Wells, so they also rely heavily on commercial labs and have experienced delays of five to six days in getting results back.

Baptist Health Center for Clinical Research is beginning phase 3 for a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine, “and that’s great news because Arkansans will be helping to develop a vaccine for COVID-19,” he said. Guidelines for who can participate include those over 65 years of age, or those 18-65 who have been working outside the home. Visit arkansascovidvaccine.com for more information.

Hutchinson said there have been more than 1,000 contact tracing cases assigned to General Dynamics, who have hired 293 new contact tracers, 93 are already on site, and 31 of which are bilingual.