LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday ruled out rolling back the state’s reopening despite a recent surge in coronavirus hospitalizations and 25 more deaths from the illness caused by the virus.
The Republican governor extended for another 60 days the emergency declaration he issued because of COVID-19, which has now killed 1,611 people in the state. The Health Department reported 680 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus.
“There’s not really an option to go back on our opening of businesses," Hutchinson said at his weekly news conference on the outbreak. “We’re way past that in Europe and the United States, here in Arkansas.”
Hutchinson, instead, said the focus needs to be on following the state’s mask mandate and other safety guidelines because of the virus.
Arkansas was among a handful of states that never issued a stay-at-home order because of the virus, but had closed bars, restaurants and other businesses. They have since reopened, but with capacity limits and other safety restrictions.
Hutchinson had previously rejected a White House task force’s recommendation that the state close bars to slow the virus’ spread. The White House Coronavirus Task Force said in its latest weekly report on the state, released Tuesday, that Arkansas last week ranked 11th in the country for new cases per capita, putting it in the “red zone."
The state was in the ‘’yellow zone" for rate of positive tests, the panel's report said, with Arkansas ranking 20th in the country. The report said 63% of Arkansas' counties had moderate or high levels of community transmission.
“Arkansas has seen stability in new cases and stability in test positivity over the last week," the report said.
The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 fell by three Tuesday to 605, a day after the state hit a new high for hospitalizations due to the illness. The task force said an average of 92% of hospitals in the state reported new confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients each day last week.
Hutchinson said he's discussed options with his public health team on further steps the state can take if its hospitalizations continue rising. He didn't elaborate on them, but said some of them include public messaging about the state's safety restrictions.
About a quarter of the state’s 9,112 hospital beds and nearly 13% of its 1,031 intensive care unit beds are available, according to the state Department of Health. There 251 COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the state.
The state's confirmed cases increased by 481 to 89,351, while probable cases rose by 199 to 4,816.
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