Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was encouraged by the slowdown in the growth of the state's confirmed coronavirus cases over the previous few days as the tally grew Tuesday by 294 -- the smallest increase in a week.
The state's death toll from the virus rose by nine, to 917, while the number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 in the state increased by 10, to 409.
The number of those patients who were on ventilators increased by 10, to 84.
Tuesday's increase in the count of confirmed cases was the smallest since a rise of 273 cases on Sept. 1. It followed a record-setting increase of 1,094 cases Friday.
The state then added 515 confirmed cases Saturday, 687 Sunday and 350 Monday.
Because of slowdowns in people getting tested at clinics over the weekend, the daily increases in the state's official tally of confirmed cases tend to be smaller early in the week and grow as the week progresses.
But Hutchinson said he was pleased with the amount of tests performed over the holiday weekend.
According to initial reports from the state Department of Health, that included 6,828 tests Friday, 5,923 Saturday, 6,057 Sunday and 5,154 Monday.
"You can see almost a seesaw in the number of cases, but what was encouraging to me was the fact that on each of these days we had very robust testing that was done across Arkansas," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson has set a goal of having 180,000 polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests of Arkansans performed this month, an average of 6,000 a day.
Also on Tuesday, Dunbar Magnet Middle School in Little Rock, Cedar Ridge Elementary School in Newark and Bergman High School near Harrison in Boone County temporarily shifted to online instruction in response to cases of covid-19.
Cedar Ridge High School will also switch to all-virtual instruction today after several teachers went into quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive.
The state's count of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 66,021.
Its count of probable cases, which include those diagnosed solely through antigen testing, increased by 183, to 736.Gallery: Governor Press Update
At his near-daily news conference on the pandemic, Hutchinson also announced that the state, through its participation in a coalition with the Rockefeller Foundation and several other states, would use $4 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to purchase enough supplies to conduct 120,000 antigen tests, which are generally quicker but less sensitive than PCR tests.
He said the supplies will be distributed to 10 college or university health centers, all Health Department's local health units and to "select community testing sites."
Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said the supplies are for the 200 testing machines the state purchased in July, along with the kits to process 3,600 tests.
Although it has the machines, the state received only a third of those kits.
Stephanie Williams, the chief of staff at the Health Department, said last month that the federal government had "commandeered" the rest of that order.
Separately, McNeill said nine Arkansas universities will receive rapid PCR test machines in the coming weeks.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville will get two of the 10 machines purchased by the Health Department for about $25,000.
Universities with health centers that have Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified laboratory spaces were eligible for the machines, made by Abbott, and many already had testing available on campus.
The machines are expected to arrive Sept. 18, to be followed by testing equipment.
The New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University Medical Clinic; Arkansas Tech University's Russellville campus; the University of Central Arkansas; University of Arkansas at Little Rock; the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith; Henderson State University; John Brown University; and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff will each receive a machine and testing equipment.
Commerce Secretary Mike Preston announced that the state has received approval to make an initial supplemental payment of $300 to Arkansans who were receiving unemployment assistance in late July and is sending out notices to those who are potentially eligible.
The payments were authorized by an Aug. 8 executive order by President Donald Trump as a partial replacement for the $600 in weekly supplemental payments that had been provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act after that benefit expired.
Preston said the last payments under the CARES Act covered the week that ended July 25.
The state has been approved to make the $300 payments, known as Lost Wages Assistance, for the week that ended Aug. 1.
"This is on a week-by-week basis now, so we've been approved for that week of Aug. 1 and will work with our counterparts of the federal government going forward," Preston said. "As funds become available and are released to the state, we'll be able to make those funds available."
Because the state was required to provide $100 in matching funds for each payment, only Arkansans whose regular weekly unemployment benefit is at least $100 will qualify.
To be eligible, they must also certify that their unemployment was caused by the pandemic.
Those receiving benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for self-employed people will also qualify for the extra $300, Preston said. That program has a minimum weekly benefit of $132, he said.
Some of the 7,400 Arkansans whose weekly unemployment benefit is less than $100 will be eligible for a separate, $300 payment through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Preston said.
Those payments are available to people who are a custodial parent of a child under 18 or pregnant and have a family income of less than 200% of the federal poverty level.
Also on Tuesday, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville spokesman Mark Rushing said students who have tested positive, or come into contact with someone who has, have "on a very limited basis" been housed in off-campus lodging made available through the university beginning Sept. 2.
"We've had a total of 5 students use the lodging for quarantine and/or isolation needs in the last week," Rushing said in an email. "So far, most students have only used this option for a day or two as they made arrangements to quarantine and/or isolate at home."
The university reported having 923 active coronavirus cases among students and employees as of Monday.
Rushing said the five students making use of the lodging at the Mount Sequoyah retreat were already living off campus.
The 260 quarantine spaces on UA's campus are designed to be used for students living in university housing, UA officials have said. As of the first week of classes, which began Aug. 24, UA had 4,925 students with contracts to live in university-managed housing, a spokesman has said. UA has not disclosed the number of covid-19 cases among students living on campus.
For a student at Mount Sequoyah, the university is paying $60 per night for lodging and $35 per day for meals, Rushing said.
"Students were asked to sign an agreement to follow all safety protocols from the university and [Mount] Sequoyah before using this space. Anyone violating those terms would be subject to sanctions from the Office of Student Standards and Conduct," Rushing said.
The board of trustees for the nonprofit Mount Sequoyah released a statement saying that the organization is "pleased to work with individuals and area organizations to host people who are required to quarantine" whether they are in isolation because of a positive test or other reasons, as various lodges on the grounds allow for distancing between guests.
Staff members are "taking extreme precautions to clean and sanitize each room and space between guests -- we treat every room as though it was exposed to the virus," according to the board's statement. The retreat is roughly 1.5 miles east of the UA campus and in a quiet residential neighborhood.
Emily Gentry, president and CEO of the organization, said any UA students there because of quarantine must stay in assigned spaces and are not allowed to attend concerts or events on the grounds.
"We have staff on campus helping to regularly monitor the adherence to this rule. Not only will the students be subject to sanctions from the [university's] Office of Student Standards and Conduct, but students failing to comply with the agreement will be asked to leave," Gentry said in an email. "None of our staff are having any direct physical contact with the students. Students are not allowed to have guests in their rooms."
Dunbar Magnet Middle School switched to virtual instruction Tuesday to give the school time to determine who had potentially been exposed to the virus after a staff member tested positive.
The Little Rock School District announced Tuesday afternoon that the instruction school would remain online-only until Sept. 21 after nine staff members and 42 students who had come in contact with the employee were required to quarantine.
At the Cedar Ridge School District, the elementary school is closed to onsite instruction and the high school will be virtual for the remainder of the week, according to statements posted on the school district's website.
On Saturday, Superintendent Sherry McMasters posted that a school employee had tested positive Thursday for covid-19.
That, and a tornado warning, led to the elementary school being closed.
"In this case, the K-5 elementary will close due to the 'close contact' of the positive case and the K-5 students and staff in the safe room Tuesday, Sept. 1, during the tornado warning," wrote McMasters.
"Although the initial length of closure was 14 days, after further contact with [Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education], the elementary school will quarantine until further notice," Brianna Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Cedar Ridge School District, posted in a subsequent message on the live feed.
On Tuesday, McMasters wrote that five people had tested positive at the elementary school and contact tracing is ongoing.
Also on Tuesday, McMasters posted that "several high school faculty have been identified as probable close contacts with covid-positive individuals."
"Due to the lack of substitute teachers during the ... quarantine, the high school will pivot to virtual instruction for the remainder of the week," she wrote.
Newark is in Independence County, between Batesville and Newport.
Instruction shifted to all-virtual at Bergman High School on Tuesday for at least the remainder of the week.
"We had enough staff out that we couldn't cover the teaching load," said Superintendent Sarah Alexander.
She said a decision will be made Friday about whether in-person instruction can resume at the high school Monday.
Alexander said the high school has about 305 students, and about 75% of them take at least some classes in person.
She said meals are still being offered to those students, and if they need a quiet place to do school work, one will be provided for them on campus, with proper social distancing observed.
Jacksonville Middle School shifted to virtual instruction Friday after eight teachers went into quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.
Jacksonville/North Pulaski Superintendent Bryan Duffie said 23 students at the middle school were also sent home to quarantine. He announced last week that on-site classes will resume Sept. 14.
On Tuesday, 21 Jacksonville High School students were sent home to quarantine after a student tested positive for covid-19.
In the Harrison School District, the parents of about 100 kindergartners were being called Tuesday afternoon and told to keep their kids at home for the next 14 days because of close contact with a covid-positive person.
Superintendent Stewart Pratt said the pupils were furnished with Google Chromebooks so they can do their school work from home.
Pratt said the school district has about 220 kindergarten pupils. He said about 80% of them had been wearing masks voluntarily.
In Clinton, where the National Championship Chuckwagon Races wrapped up Sunday, schools went to all-virtual instruction this week and next week as the school district had planned since the beginning of the school year.
"The traditional on-site students will obtain instruction virtually for the two weeks to ensure everyone's safety and to increase virtual learning capabilities for all in case of a lengthy closing of schools," the Clinton School District said on its website.
CASES BY COUNTY
Arkansas Health Secretary Jose Romero said one of the deaths added to the state's count occurred more than three weeks earlier but hadn't been immediately reported.
The confirmed cases added to the state's total Tuesday included 30 in Cross County, where Romero said a nursing home had experienced an outbreak.
McNeill identified the home as River Ridge Rehabilitation and Care Center in Wynne. The Health Department's most recent report on nursing home cases, dated Friday, listed three cases among residents and three among staff members.
The cases added Tuesday also included 29 in Washington County, 28 in Pulaski County, 17 in Benton County and 16 in Craighead County.
The number of cases that were considered active fell by 218, to 5,844, as 503 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.
Information for this article was contributed by Emily Walkenhorst and Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Print Headline: State sees 294 more instances of illness