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These are featured stories of how the Upper Delta and Mid-South is combating the Coronavirus as well as resources to help those impacted by the pandemic.

Gov. Hutchinson extends health emergency to Dec. 31, again calls on Arkansans to wear masks, follow health guidelines

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Talk Business and Politics
Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) delivering his first televised prime-time address about the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday (Dec. 10) used his first primetime television address while in the state’s top office to essentially repeat pleas for Arkansans to wear masks, follow other health safety rules, and be smart about holiday gatherings.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported Thursday another 34 deaths, with the total of confirmed and probable deaths rising to 2,820. Total cumulative confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases rose by 2,202 to 178,854 and cumulative and probable active cases rose by 958 to 19,723. The only good part of the report was that hospitalizations fell by 59 to 1,005.

Gov. Hutchinson said during his televised address that 1.3 million of Arkansas’ estimated 3.019 million population have been tested. He warned that case numbers are on the rise because of Thanksgiving holiday travel and family gatherings, and warned state residents to be more careful during the Christmas holiday. If Arkansans continue to not wear masks, fail to socially distance and gather in large numbers “cases will continue to rapidly accelerate. We do not want to have a triple surge.”

The governor also reiterated his unwillingness to issue stay-at-home orders or place new restrictions on businesses.

“This is not my vision of a good Christmas, or a good way to start the new year,” he said.

As he has for many months, Gov. Hutchinson said he and state health officials are watching contact tracing data to determine if a source of virus spread requires a targeted approach to any business restrictions. But he said “self-discipline” in wearing masks, socially distancing and following other guidelines is the key to containing the spread and not putting more restrictions on business.

He also expressed “confidence and hope” that vaccines will provide relief, adding that he and First Lady Susan Hutchinson will receive a vaccine as soon as their turn comes up in the priority schedule. He said it is important that healthcare workers, first responders, caregivers in nursing homes and the elderly are first in line to be vaccinated, adding that 79.5% of COVID deaths are among those 65 years and older. He urged patience with the vaccination schedule, predicting that it will be late Spring before all Arkansans have access to a vaccine.

“We will get everyone covered,” he said.

WHITE HOUSE REPORT
Gov. Hutchinson’s speech also follows a blunt assessment about the virus in Arkansas posted Dec. 6 by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

“Despite the severity of this surge and the threat to the hospital systems, many state and local governments are not implementing the same mitigation policies that stemmed the tide of the summer surge; that must happen now,” the report noted.

Following are just a few of the notes and recommendations in the report.• Mitigation efforts must increase, including the implementation of key state and local policies with an additional focus on uniform behavioral change including masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households, and aggressive testing to find the asymptomatic individuals responsible for the majority of infectious spread.

• Universities must have weekly testing plans in place for the spring semester including mandatory testing of all students weekly to prevent spread in the community. Universities that tested all students weekly starting the first week of the fall semester saw between 75% and 90% fewer cases than those who did not. For the remaining time in the current semester, students must be tested weekly prior to returning home for winter break.

• Effective practices to decrease transmission in public spaces include limiting restaurant indoor capacity to <25% and closing bars/limiting bar hours until cases and test positivity decrease to the yellow zone.

• Conduct active testing in schools for teachers and students where cases are increasing. In accordance with CDC guidelines, masks must be worn by students and teachers in K-12 schools. Consider pausing extracurricular school activities, even though athletics are not transmission risks, as the surrounding activities are where transmission is occurring.

COVID REPORT – Dec. 10
New known COVID-19 cases, active cases, tests
• 154,073 known cumulative PCR cases, with 1,539 new community cases and 165 reported cases in correctional facilities
• 24,781 probable cases, up from 24,283 on Tuesday
• There are 15,342 active cases, up from 14,581 on Tuesday
• There were 14,242 test results provided in the previous 24 hours.
• There were 4,133 antigen tests in the previous 24 hours.

Deaths
• 2,559, up 7
• 261 probable COVID-related deaths, up 27

Hospitalizations
1,005, up 59

Ventilators
181, up 2

Recovered cases
136,150

The top five counties with new known cases reported Thursday were: Pulaski (232), Washington (185), Washington (148), Faulkner (97), and Craighead (88). The counties accounted for 48.7% of the 1,539 new community cases.

As of Thursday at 4 p.m., there were 15,535,565 U.S. cases and 291,403 deaths. Globally, there were 69,363,786 cases and 1,578,008 deaths.