Nationally recognized epidemiologist and Arkansas Health Secretary Nate Smith will start a new job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta in August, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced during Tuesday’s daily press briefing.
Hutchinson praised Smith for his leadership during this health crisis and thanked him for staying through the transition for Dr. Jose Romero to take the position of interim secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health.
Romero has worked in Arkansas for over a decade and currently holds positions at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. As a pediatric infectious disease expert, Romero serves as the chair for the Advisory Committee for Immunizations.
On Tuesday, there were an additional 151 positive coronavirus (COVID-19) cases for a new total of 6,180 cases in Arkansas, 1,729 of which are active. The number of hospitalizations rose to a near high of 107 while deaths rose to 119.
With 2,984 tests administered in the previous 24 hours, the state passed the goal of 60,000 tests in the month of May to 61,922. The governor pointed out that this was with several days still left in the month.
The seven day rolling average continued to rise past the previous peak of new cases. Until the number of new cases starts to decline, it is unclear if this is a second peak that is equal or exceeds the one Arkansas hit at the end of April.
Hutchinson was asked if this second peak would lead to a hospital overload to which he responded that the capacity for COVID-19 cases was "more than ample" in the state.
With a positivity rate still less than half the national standard, both Smith and Hutchinson believe that the number of cases is related to expanded testing rather than a result of reopening businesses and venues.
According to a new model from UAMS, Arkansas may hit 8,500 cases by the end of June. Hutchinson, however, believes that, due to the state beating curves previously, Arkansas will continue to beat the curve and not reach that number by the projected date of June 23.
National news focused on the Lake of the Ozarks swim party in Missouri over the weekend that demonstrated a seeming disregard of social distancing.
Hutchinson responded to that story by pointing out it was not only outside of Arkansas, but well outside of his jurisdiction. The governor stated that, within the state, there was a general following of guidelines which related to a good holiday weekend overall.
To those who did not practice social distancing, Hutchinson called it a "lack of discipline."
The governor further stated that those who do not follow the guidelines in place "put their own comfort and convenience over the safety of others."
The governor concluded his comments by sharing that the direction of the current new case trajectory depends on "discipline and commitment" of residents to follow the phase one guidelines in order to reach phase two of reopening Arkansas.
Smith addressed concerns of the reaction of Arkansas to a virus with a 99% recovery rate by pointing out that 1% of residents is 30,000 deaths, which he called "unacceptable."
"We need to think about what we’re doing," Smith stated while explaining that public health is the best course of action to keep the virus under control.
In Arkansas, there is a disproportionately high number of cases among the Hispanic and African American communities, so Smith and Hutchinson shared a plan to expand testing in those communities as well as increasing the amount of marketing targeted at them.
The governor continued to express his desire to lead by example when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask. He pointed out that the virus is a matter of public health rather than politics.