LITTLE ROCK — An additional 62 cases of positive coronavirus virus test results announced Wednesday brought the total to 280 in Arkansas. Officials are now trying to beef up the healthcare system with more workers as quickly as possible.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has warned that increased testing will undoubtedly turn up more positive results. But that additional testing has also given officials a clearer picture of where the virus is and how it spreads.
Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said Wednesday that there have been more than 1,400 negative test results with the majority coming from commercial labs.
Of the total cases reported, 13 were children, 173 were adults ages 19 to 64 and 94 were patients 65 and older.
Hutchinson said people are always thankful for doctors, nurses, lab technicians for being on the front line of the effort to fight the virus.
But given the length of time the outbreak could extend, all those professionals are going to experience fatigue. They might be required to isolate themselves for their own health needs or because they had a positive test.
That could easily lead to a gap in healthcare workers available over the coming weeks or even months.
To prepare for that, Hutchinson said he asked the state Medical Board to expedite licensing of healthcare workers.
The board issued emergency temporary licensure to medical residents who have completed their one year of internship and the licensure fees were waived.
“As a result of that, we have 15 residents who have done their internship, who have applied for this quick licensure provision and they will be able to enter the healthcare field in a faster way,” Hutchinson said.
In addition, the board accelerated the overall licensing process, so more than 100 physicians have been licensed in March.
The state Nursing Board also accelerated the licensing process. The board issued licenses within 24 hours for nurses who applied. In March, the board issued 300 new nursing licenses through the expedited process.
Some nurses had been laid off because elective procedures have been delayed during the crisis. So, the Nursing Board is making referrals of those nurses who want to work to places where they are needed.
Hutchinson applauded those boards for taking steps necessary in a difficult time.
“That’s how we need to manage our medical team during this time,” the governor said.
Hutchinson said the ADH has issued guidance that social gatherings of more than 10 people in a confined space should be avoided.
Most groups have followed the guidance, but there have been media reports of groups that have not.
So, the ADH will soon issue a directive to that effect in the very near future.
The governor said that directive will carry the weight of the law and large gatherings not following the directive could be ordered to disperse.
“The public needs to abide by the guidance of the Department of Health,” Hutchinson said. That cooperation can help avoid a shelter-in-place order the governor said he doesn’t want to issue.
Smith said he didn’t want to set the directive in law because that will make people try to figure out ways to get around it.
But Smith urged people to keep a distance between themselves and other people if they have to go to a store. He encouraged churches to be innovative in holding services, such as going to a video format so people can watch at home, much like his own church has done.
As for unemployment insurance claims, more than 9,000 were filed last week. So far this week, another 8,000 have been filed with 700 just Wednesday morning, Hutchinson said.
That means people are getting through the system, but he had been told that average wait times for phone callers was over 25 minutes. He thanks people for being patient because that volume of claims is unprecedented in Arkansas history.
“We’re trying to upgrade the systems to make the online system work better and more efficiently, but this gives you an idea as to the need that’s out there and how we’re responding to it,” Hutchinson said.