LITTLE ROCK — With 61 more positive coronavirus cases in Arkansas and two more deaths, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he will ask the federal Department of the Interior to close the Buffalo National River soon.
State Health Secretary Nathaniel Smith said that of the 584 cases reported Wednesday, 18 were 18 or younger (a gain of one), 396 were ages 19-64 (up 48) and the remaining 170 were patients 65 or older (a gain of 12).
Healthcare workers represented 84 of those cases, which was five more than Tuesday. Twenty-five were on respirators, a gain of two from Tuesday, and 56 were hospitalized, which was actually six less than Tuesday.
The two new deaths were of patients 65 or older, Smith said, but he didn’t give locations of where they died.
Hutchinson said testing is being accelerated. Over the previous 24 hours, UAMS conducted 65 tests, the Arkansas Department of Health performed 147 and private labs submitted 691.
The governor announced that a partnership between the state, Walmart and Quest Laboratories will see a pilot project for drive-thru clinic established in Bentonville.
That clinic will focus on first responders and healthcare workers who show symptoms. They will have an app they can use to self-check in order to determine if they need to be tested. Results would be returned in a relatively short period of time.
After complaints of many out-of-state visitors going to state parks and the Buffalo National River as of late, Hutchinson said Tuesday that he had asked Stacy Hurst, secretary of the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, for recommendations concerning stemming that trend to help stop the spread of the disease.
Hurst said Wednesday that state parks will go to day-use only beginning Friday, April 3. Parking will be allowed only in approved parking lots and any motorists who park along highways or any place other than approved can be cited. Park rangers will patrol the area and park interpreters will work to educate visitors.
Hutchinson said he talked to local, state and federal officials about the Buffalo National River, which the state can’t regulate.
“The conclusion I reached is that I will be recommending to the secretary of the Interior that the Buffalo River scenic national park be closed through this emergency, at least for a time until we can get a handle on it, until we feel like it’s safe to reopen that,” the governor said Tuesday.
On Monday, 60% of people visiting state or national parks in Arkansas were from outside the state, Hutchinson said.
“Now, you think about that in terms of hot spots across the country, the fact that other parks have closed, certainly points to the need that if we’re going to try to limit out of state visitors and the spread of COVID-19, we needed to take that step and I made that recommendation,” Hutchinson said.
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said there is a large backlog of self-employed or gig economy workers who have filed for unemployment insurance benefits, but he said those can’t be processed without guidance from the U.S. Labor Department under new legislation relating to pandemic unemployment.