LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTAL/KMSS) – Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed an order temporarily banning out-of-state travelers from staying in hotels, motels, or other short-term rentals in the state. Under the emergency proclamation, only healthcare professionals, first responders, law enforcement may occupy commercial lodging and vacation rentals.
Hutchinson also signed orders allowing waivers for weight limits regulating the trucking industry in Arkansas, lifting permit requirements to allow truckers to haul up to 90,000 lbs for commodities related to COVID-19 response, which includes food, PPE, sanitizer, and medicine.
Hutchinson announced the new measures for what he called a “targeted response” in a briefing Saturday afternoon updating efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Arkansas, where there are now 743 cases confirmed. Arkansas Department of Health Director, Dr. Nate Smith, said 14 people have died from COVID-19 and 72 people are hospitalized. He said 23 are on ventilators.
Smith said 58 of the confirmed cases are in nursing homes, and 106 healthcare workers have been confirmed to be infected. He also noted that 1,000 tests have been completed in the last 24 hours.
In Southwest Arkansas, Miller County has eight positive cases, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. There were none reported in Little River County as of early Saturday afternoon. One to four cases are reported in each of the following counties: Nevada, Lafayette, Columbia, and Hempstead.
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Lorie Tudor with Arkansas DOT outlined measures being taken on construction sites around the state, including limiting the number workers on job sites and allowing only one employee per vehicle. The state has also moved to an electronic-based system for handling tickets and permits to cut down on physical proximity and contact. Tudor also noted that the state will be “very lenient” with contractors who have to delay or suspend projects due to the pandemic.
Hutchinson said unemployment claims in the state are up by 66,000 with 8,000 waiting to be processed. He said the call center recieved 300,000 calls on Wednesday alone.
The governor also noted Saturday that travel patterns in Arkansas have been reduced by 40%, according to data released Thursday by Google.
He also praised businesses like Walmart and Target taking additional measures to minimize the potential for spreading the virus, including limiting the number of customers in their buildings and marking off space for six-foot distances between people.
Dr. Smith addressed new guidance from the CDC Friday recommending a cloth covering or mask, explaining that they can help prevent the spread of the virus by providing a barrier for droplets released when sneezing, coughing, or even singing. Smith noted that a number of people at a congregation in Washington state were sickened after at least one infected person attended choir practice, and that new data has revealed that many who are spreading it have not been showing or feeling symptoms.
Smith said the masks are recommended for public settings where it’s difficult or impossible to maintain social distancing, such as in grocery stores.
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