Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials discuss coronavirus response in east Arkansas

Updated: Mar. 17, 2020 at 10:23 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson visited West Memphis Tuesday to give an update on the coronavirus response on the eastern side of the state.

Together with Dr. Nathaniel Smith, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, Hutchinson said there are no new positive cases since Monday, but they expect the number of cases to increase as more testing occurs this week.

The governor tried to reassure the public there’s no need to panic.

“We don’t need to engage in panic buying. We are manufacturing in Arkansas. We’re producing goods. Those goods are being delivered, and when it comes to food supplies, the grocery stores are open,” said Hutchinson.

According to the state health department’s website, there are 14 people under investigation for COVID-19 and another 258 people being monitored with daily check-ins and guidance.

Smith said all of Arkansas’s cases can be traced back to their first case, which was discovered after the individual returned from U.S. travel.

“As we scale up testing this week and as we start to get additional results from commercial labs I expect that we will find additional cases,” said Smith.

As of Tuesday morning, there are more than 4,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States.

Public health officials are advising social distancing as the best way to avoid infection along with frequent hand washing and disinfecting of high-traffic areas and surfaces.

On Monday, the White House coronavirus task force urged the public to avoid gatherings with 10 or more people.

Hours later, Hutchinson announced Arkansas casinos, including Southland, would cease operations for at least two weeks.

“I know this is a tremendous hardship in the eastern Arkansas community because we have, I believe, 900 hourly workers that are going to be impacted by this,” said Hutchinson.

The governor says they are working to help those who are impacted by the casino closures. Those individuals will be eligible for unemployment and can complete the process online.

Arkansas schools are also closed until the end of the month as the governor declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency.

Experts are working to bring more COVID-19 testing to the state through the Department of Health, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and commercial testing providers.

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