10th Arkansas lawmaker tests positive for coronavirus
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A tenth Arkansas lawmaker tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday in what has become the second largest outbreak of the virus in a state legislature.
Rep. Marcus Richmond said he tested positive for the virus. He's the latest in an outbreak that prompted legislative leaders to halt budget hearings last week. Hearings resumed on Tuesday but with new social distancing measures.
Richmond, who said he had minor symptoms and was tested on Monday, said he believed he had likely caught the virus at the hearings.
"I wore my mask and hid behind my plexiglass," he said, referring to the partitions between lawmakers' desks. "I just think I probably walked through somebody's air."
Arkansas' outbreak is second only to one in Mississippi's legislature this summer, when dozens of lawmakers tested positive for the virus. At least 162 state legislators nationwide have tested positive for the virus and three have died since the pandemic began, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has limited his public appearances after being exposed to someone with the virus, though he's tested negative several times since the exposure.
The only Arkansas legislators known to have contracted the virus before the latest outbreak were three who caught it in the spring and a fourth who caught it in July.
State Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe also tweeted Wednesday that he tested positive for the virus. Bledsoe's mother, state Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, tested positive for the virus on Sunday. Greg Bledsoe said he had previously tested negative for the virus and was already in isolation.
Arkansas' probable and confirmed virus cases on Wednesday rose by 961 to 108,640. The state's COVID-19 deaths increased by 18 to 1,875. The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 dropped by 14 to 662, a day after it reached a new high.
The actual number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested and people can carry the virus but not feel sick.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force said in a report released Wednesday that Arkansas needed a different strategy for reducing the virus's transmission. In the report dated Sunday, the panel said the state should work with communities to limit large and small social gatherings.
"What worked in the summer is not working in the fall with cooler weather and considering COVID fatigue," the report said. The report said 76% of Arkansas' counties have moderate or high levels of community transmission.
Hutchinson said the state has already been shifting its strategy, including messaging about small gatherings and strategically deploying its rapid tests.
"Behind the scenes, we've strengthened our compliance and education efforts and doing this uniquely for what we see is a potentially tough winter ahead," Hutchinson said. "We do take those recommendations seriously, even though it's somewhat stating the obvious."
Arkansas ranked 4th in the country last week for new deaths per capita, according to the report. The state ranked 13th for new cases per capita and 22nd in test positivity.
Associated Press Writer David Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri contributed to this report