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LITTLE ROCK — Nearly 300 doctors from around Arkansas urged Gov Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday to impose new restrictions to curb a surge in coronavirus cases as the state’s hospitalizations from the virus hit a new record level.
In the open letter, the doctors warned of the health care system being strained by the rise in cases. They urged the Republican governor to close bars and gyms, and limit restaurants to takeout service only. They also called on him to limit indoor gatherings to less than ten people.
“Our hospitals are filling up to the brim, and the virus is continuing to spread unchecked in our communities, meaning that the worst is approaching,” the letter delivered to Hutchinson’s office said. “Soon we will shoot past our capacity to care for patients.”
Arkansas’ COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday rose by six to 901, another new high for the state. The state’s coronavirus cases rose by 1,715 to 137,617. Thirty more people died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total fatalities since the virus began to 2,275.
The actual number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested and people can carry the virus but not feel sick.
Hutchinson has resisted calls to impose more restrictions on businesses and on Tuesday rejected a White House task force’s recommendation that restaurants’ indoor capacity in most of the state be scaled back from 66% to 25%. The White House panel and Arkansas’ health secretary on Tuesday warned the state is on the verge of a rapid increase in cases.
In a letter to the physicians, Hutchinson noted the current capacity limits for restaurants and bars and other social distancing requirements in place for gyms. He also cited the state’s mask mandate.
“Please be assured I share your commitment to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas, and I recognize the importance of maintaining our hospital capacity,” he wrote. “I will continue to be guided by the expertise and experience of public health officials and evaluate appropriate actions to mitigate the impact on our hospital capacity.”
About 27% percent of the state’s 9,144 hospital beds and 7% of the state’s 1,124 intensive care unit beds are available, according to the Department of Health. There are 347 COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the state.
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