Arkansas Reports 787 New Virus Cases, 6 More Deaths

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LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas on Wednesday reported 787 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and six more people in the state have died from the illness caused by the virus.

The Department of Health said at least 40,968 people in the state have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began in early March. The department said 6,596 of those cases are active, meaning they don’t include people who have died or recovered.

The department said 145 of the new cases came from Delta Regional Unit, a state prison in Chicot County.

The true 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 number of deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, climbed to 434. The number of people hospitalized rose by seven to 508.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday said he wants to hear “dissenting voices” after the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported the state’s interim health secretary in June voiced concerns about the consequences of further lifting restrictions that had been placed on businesses because of the virus.

“I am concerned that pushing on to Phase 2 for the entire state will lead (to) significant increases in COVID cases that will overwhelm our healthcare systems,” Dr. Jose Romero wrote in a June 9 email to Dr. Nate Smith, then the state’s health secretary that the newspaper obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. “The public seems not to have taken seriously recommendations for social distancing and masks.”

Hutchinson on June 10 announced the state would move into Phase 2 of reopening, a move that eased capacity limits on bars, restaurants and other businesses.

Romero on Tuesday said he didn’t believe Hutchinson made a mistake by moving into Phase 2. He said his comments were based on the data at the time and noted Hutchinson has since signed a statewide order requiring mask s in public. Romero’s email was in response to a list of options for reopening strategies Smith sent to a medical advisory panel for the governor. 

Hutchinson, a Republican, said he wants to hear all voices from his advisory panel but said he went with the option that had the most consensus. 

“I want to know dissenting voices,” Hutchinson said. “I want to know broadly what the thinking of our medical advisory group is.”

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