LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas on Wednesday reported 385 more confirmed cases of the coronavirus as a White House task force said the state has one of the highest rates for new cases in the country.
The Health Department reported the state's total cases since the pandemic began in March is 66,406. The department also reported an additional 114 positive antigen tests.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose by 11 to 928. The number of people hospitalized rose by two to 411. The actual number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force said the state had the 6th highest rate for new cases last week, reporting 152 new cases per 100,000 people. The state had 13th highest rate of positive tests, at 9.6%, the report said. The panel repeated its recommendation that Arkansas close bars and issued several recommendations targeting university campuses.
“Arkansas has seen an increase in new cases and stability in test positivity over the last week," the panel's report said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has rejected the call to close bars, said he takes the panel's report seriously but indicated he's not looking at additional restrictions yet.
“In terms of my level of worry, if we would have had five successive days of 1,000 positive as we had last Friday, then I would be very concerned and we would probably be looking at additional steps that might need to be taken," Hutchinson said. Arkansas on Friday reported a new record for a one-day increase in virus cases.
Hutchinson said the state has already steps to expand testing at college campuses, something the panel called for.
Health officials have said the biggest growth in new cases is coming from college-age people. The University of Arkansas on Wednesday reported 888 active cases on its main campus in Fayetteville, and 1,205 total since Aug. 10. Arkansas State University in Jonesboro reported 136 active cases on its campus.
UA's outbreak prompted administrators last week to take steps to restrict most on-campus events and large parties off campus.
The panel also called on Arkansas to keep its requirement to wear masks in public to prevent the virus's The city of Fayetteville set up a hotline to handle complaints of businesses and people not complying with the mask mandate. The city said additional police officers and fire marshals would enforce mask wearing in the downtown area Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
The University of Central Arkansas on Wednesday announced its volleyball team was postponing matches this weekend against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arkansas State after some of its players tested positive for the virus.
Hutchinson also announced a partnership between the Department of Health and Baptist Health that he said will increase the state's testing capacity by 20%.
The Health Department also said that restaurants would be allowed to resume offering buffets and salad bars, but with new restrictions. Restaurants are currently limited to a two-thirds capacity in Arkansas.