LITTLE ROCK — The first two deaths in Arkansas from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were reported Tuesday.
The Associated Press reported that Faulkner County's deputy coroner said a 91-year-old man died Tuesday morning at a Conway hospital from COVID-19.
State Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith said at a Tuesday briefing that the other death was a patient in their 50s in the central Arkansas area.
Smith said during the briefing that one of the victims did have underlying health issues while the main risk factor in the other was age. Neither of them was known to be travel related.
Smith said funerals are necessary for people to remember their loved ones, but they can also be a danger for spreading the virus. He suggested smaller, family gathering, possibly outside as the weather gets nicer, then postponing large memorial services until later.
The total number of positive cases was 218 as of 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, a rise of 44 from the previous day. Of those cases, 11 were children, 134 were people ages 19-65 and 73 were patients 65 and older. Six were on ventilators and 14 were hospitalized.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that while the rise was substantial, it’s important to remember that Arkansas is still on the front end of the outbreak.
“In talking to my public health team, they used this language and said that what we’re seeing is ‘the calm before the storm,’” Hutchinson said. He said most people might not see it as a calm, but it indicates the state is still on the upswing as far as the outbreak.
Hutchinson said the state received 24 pallets of personal protection equipment, or PPE, from the national strategic stockpile Tuesday morning, which represents the second allotment of PPE from the federal government.
That shipment included 27,800 n95 masks. “So, this is good news for us,” the governor said.
Hutchinson said Monday that the state had placed an order for 2 million PPE units from an overseas manufacturer and he said Tuesday that 1 million of those are scheduled to arrive this weekend.
With those supplies and the current stock on hand, Hutchinson said the state has enough equipment to last for the next 60 days at current usage rate.
Still, he warned that as positive cases are almost certain to be diagnosed, that usage rate could increase. So, he said the state will continue looking for additional equipment wherever possible.
The rise of the virus in Arkansas hasn’t been as accelerated as in other parts of the country and world. Hutchinson said that gives the state time to plan and prepare for what lies ahead.
The governor has called for a special legislative session to plug holes in the current budget given a predicted $353 million shortfall in revenue by the end of the 2020 fiscal year on June 30.
He hopes the session will begin Thursday and that legislators will work quickly and without contentious debate to reach a consensus to meet needs of the essential government agencies.