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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday evening implored Arkansans to take precautions during the upcoming holidays as coronavirus cases surge but declined to implement any additional restrictions.
“More restrictions on businesses would add a whole host of additional challenges, from increased unemployment to closed business and bankruptcies, all right during the holiday season,” he said.
In the statewide address, he told residents that the state is seeing a surge in cases after Thanksgiving, and reminded them that Christmas is just two weeks away.
“Unless we take the right precautions, science tells us the cases will continue to rapidly accelerate,” he said.
He told Arkansans: “We must do a few things differently this year.”
Hutchinson suggested Arkansans travel less for the holiday, and if they do travel out of state to take rapid tests before and after. He noted he liked one family’s idea to do their Christmas gathering outside. He also suggested businesses forgo a holiday party this year, and if not have the state health department approve their social distancing gathering, as his office is doing.
Earlier in the week, a report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force said the state’s positivity rate on coronavirus tests and the number of new cases put Arkansas in the “red zone” and more limitations should be placed on bars and indoor dining until those rates drop.
Hutchinson said Thursday evening that he didn’t see a need for additional restrictions, noting the state already had several measures in place, including a mask mandate.
“The real solution to getting life back to normal is people being self-disciplined by wearing a mask, socially distancing and limiting our indoor gatherings to those we know are safe,” Hutchinson said. “Those are the steps that will make a difference versus putting additional restrictions on businesses that are already complying with all of the health guidance.”
The Arkansas Department of Health on Thursday reported 2,202 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, for a total since the pandemic began of over 178,000. The department reported 34 more deaths, for a total of 2,820 so far.
The department said 1,005 coronavirus patients were hospitalized.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Arkansas has increased by 353, an increase of 19.5%.
It was announced Thursday that another Arkansas lawmaker has tested positive for COVID-19. State Rep. Carlton Wing, a Republican, has tested positive, the Arkansas House spokeswoman Cecillea Pond-Mayo said. She said he was recovering at home.
Wing is at least the 15th Arkansas lawmaker over the past two months to test positive for the coronavirus. Four Arkansas legislators tested positive earlier in the year.
The true number of infections in Arkansas is likely higher because many haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
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