The number of people in the state who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose to 110.
Thursday’s increase was the largest the state has reported in a one-day period since April 20, when officials reported 304 new cases. Health officials said at least half of the new cases reported Thursday came from a federal prison in Forrest City. Those cases had previously been announced but not logged into the system until Thursday.
“The … new cases are obviously quite alarming,” said Dr. Nathaniel Smith, the state’s health secretary. Smith said the increase is largely due to ramped-up testing, with the governor announcing a goal earlier this month to test 60,000 people by the end of May.
The increase also follows moves by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to allow businesses that had closed because of the virus to reopen. Arkansas was among a handful of states that did not have a stay-at-home order, but had other restrictions in place. The state this week allowed casinos, theaters and other indoor entertainment venues to reopen with new capacity limits and restrictions, and standalone bars can resume operations next week.
Hutchinson called the increase a concern, but the defended the state’s approach in reopening businesses. The Republican governor said the state has been careful in phasing in the reopenings and including measures businesses will have to follow.
“We’re going to have to learn to manage this economy and we’re also going to have to stop to the spread of the virus,” Hutchinson said. “You’ve got to do those two things simultaneously.”
Hutchinson announced that community and school team sports will be allowed to resume June 1 but with restrictions because of the virus. The new rules prohibit team practice and competition for close contact sports such as basketball, football, wrestling and soccer.
The state is also allowing overnight summer camps to begin operations, with campers arriving no sooner than May 31. The rules include requiring staffers and campers over the age of 10 to wear face coverings, screening for symptoms and encouraging campers and staff to self-quarantine for 14 days before camps.
Hutchinson also announced the state has begun sending out its first unemployment payments for gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed after the site was shut down over the weekend because of a breach.
Hutchinson said nearly 4,000 payments were sent out Wednesday night and debit cards are being sent to another 1,879 claimants. The FBI has said it’s investigating the breach, which was announced the day after the Arkansas Times reported a computer programmer applying for assistance discovered a vulnerability in the system that exposed applicants’ personal information.
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