THE UPDATE: A gathering in governor’s conference room.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, joined by a number of health and other officials, provided an update today on the public health emergency created by the coronavirus.

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Big news: The count of positive cases in Arkansas has jumped to six. The governor said this wasn’t a surprise, “but it is also a signal we have to take additional steps and actions.”

The governor said action is being targeted to where cases are being found — Saline, Jefferson, Pulaski and Grant counties.

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The tracing work has expanded exponentially, he said. And this has led first to public schools.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” he said, schools in those four counties have been advised to close for the next two weeks. That allows time to “get a handle” on the situation and check others who might have connections with an exposed person.

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He said the state was working on “beefing up the stockpile” of protective equipment for health workers.

Health Director Nathaniel Smith said five additional people had tested positive overnight. Some contacts with these people were school-aged children and temporary closures were ordered to “interrupt any cycles of transmission.”

UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said people who think they might have symptoms are guided to a separate triage center on campus so they don’t mingle with others. UAMS Health has an online information line for questions.

Children’s Hospital Director Marcie Doderer said Children’s also has a hotline to answer questions, which will keep children at home rather than in crowded clinics or emergency rooms. Screening is underway there for staffs and visitors. They are precautions similar to those used during flu season. Their website has more here.

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In response to questions, officials said there still was no evidence of community spread of the virus. The new positive cases are all being treated at home and are not hospitalized.

Hutchinson said schools in other parts of the state shouldn’t close and it’s important that other parents and schools not “overreact” based on action in four counties. If additional concerns arise, they’ll be addressed, he said.

It was confirmed that a UAMS trainee who is a resident at Children’s and Jefferson Regional in Pine Bluff was among the confirmed cases. That doctor came in contact with the state’s first confirmed case, a patient at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff. We also learned today that it’s believed the first confirmed case picked up the virus in a trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

School closures were recommended where children had contact with someone who’d had contact with an infected person. That wasn’t the case with all school districts in the four counties, but the entire counties were covered because of the potential for other contacts.

Officials wouldn’t provide residences or other information about those with positive tests.

The governor acknowledged that school closures will have impact on child care and on food security for children who depend on school meals. He said education will continue on the Internet. He said people were looking for “innovative” approaches, but mentioned no specific ways to help, be it sick pay for poor workers, additional food supplies or support for day care. A worker in one school district complained to us that while teachers are under contract and continue to be paid, some workers in some school districts will not be paid for days of closure.

In the Little Rock School District, this response is planned, a Twitter town hall from 6 to 7 p.m. today:

In lieu of LRSD’s regularly scheduled Community Advisory Board Meeting, LRSD will host a Twitter Town Hall meeting from 6-7 p.m., to share more about the District’s response to COVID-19 and the closing of schools.  You may join the conversation on LRSD’s Twitter page or may follow along on Comcast Channel 4 or U-verse Channel 99.
Additionally, LRSD is sending updates to various stakeholder groups, using lrsd.org, social media and the District’s mass notification system, ParentLink.  The letter to parents can be found here:  Letter to LRSD Community.

 

At the news conference, the governor and others defended holding public events in areas where no cases had been confirmed.

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