COVID-19 cases spike in St. Francis County, home of state’s federal prison

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — New numbers out Tuesday, May 12, showing a concerning increase in COVID-19 cases in eastern Arkansas. 

“It does bring about some concern, but also it shows the importance of what we need to do as a community,” Mayor of Forrest City, Cedric Williams, said. 

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said St. Francis County is a community he is concerned about. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Hutchinson announced 121 new COVID-19 cases in Arkansas. 21 of those are in correctional facilities and 100 are in the community. Of those 100, 27 are in St. Francis County. 

“Clearly, that’s a concern that we first had the outbreak in the prison facility and the worry is that it would spread to the community,” he said. 

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Home to the state’s federal prison, Gov. Hutchinson called on people in Forrest City to continue practice social distancing, so the spike doesn’t turn into an outbreak. 

“I want to make sure that everyone there in Forrest City knows the importance of sticking with our social guidelines and distancing and wearing of masks for their own protection and the protection of others,” he said. 

Dr. Smith also warned the community against plans for a graduation party on Friday. 

“That probably isn’t a good idea in a community where we know we now have community transmission of COVID-19 at higher levels than in many other communities,” he said. 

An event that Mayor Williams said has been taken care of.

“Long story short, that has been put to bed and that graduation party will not happen here in Forrest City,” he said. 

Over the weekend, UAMS took their mobile testing site back to Forrest City for the fourth time. 

Dr. Jennifer Hunt, chair of the UAMS Department of Pathology and the director of the UAMS Triage Unit, said they screened almost 150 people and tested more than half of them.

“We usually go back to sites that have a significant rate of positive tests and by significant rate of positive tests, I generally mean at or above the state rate.”

Dr. Hunt said they will decide whether to head back once the weekend test results are in, but as for now, she wants to remind the residents of Forrest City to keep taking precautions.  

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Stay home, stay safe, continue to wear your masks and wash your hands,” she said. 

Mayor Williams called on his community to stay calm.

“This is not the time to panic. We must continue to social distance, adhering to the guidelines and we will definitely get through this,” he said. 

On Saturday, May 16, the first 500 people to come to Forrest City’s Civic Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. can get tested for COVID-19 by the department of health. 

The Civic Center is located at 1335 N. Washington St. in Forrest City.