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Arkansas on Precipice of Uncontrollable Rise in COVID-19 Cases, Health Secretary Warns

Both Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero issued grim warnings at Tuesday's weekly coronavirus response briefing. Hutchinson addressed the White House COVID-19 Task Force report for the state and said if Arkansas continues at the pace established over the first few days of this week, there will be an additional 1,000 deaths from the virus before Christmas. Meanwhile, Romero warned the state is on the precipice of a significant and possibly uncontrollable rise in cases. He compared it to a boulder rolling down a hill that can't be stopped and will eventually overwhelm Arkansas's healthcare facilities. Romero also reported the majority of recent deaths have come from nursing homes and living centers, and he reiterated Arkansans should not take vulnerable relatives away from those setting for large Thanksgiving celebrations next week. The White House COVID-19 Report recommends the state consider reducing capacity at restaurants, as well as several other measures, but Hutchinson said that's not something he's planning to implement as Arkansas continues its enforcement at those types of establishments. According to Mike Moore, the director of the regulatory division of the Department of Finance, his department has conducted more than 3,700 inspections since the pandemic began and in 93 percent of cases businesses have been in compliance with mask and social distancing guidelines. Moore said most of the citations have resulted in verbal warnings with the goal of keeping businesses open while slowing the spread of the virus. Nine months into the publich health emergency, many businesses continue to struggle from interruptions created by the pandemic. Stacy Hurst, the secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, announced a new $50 million grant program funded by the CARES Act that will provide financial assistance to businesses in the hospitality and personal care industries. The Business Interruption Grant is based on reimbursing certain expenses. Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key said 46 schools had to pivot to some sort of virtual learning schedule last week and an additional 16 schools did the same in the first two days of this week. There are currently more than 70 active school modifications across Arkansas. Hutchinson also announced he's scheduled to be part of a phone call with president-elect Joe Biden and his transition team Thursday, so that governors and the president-elect's team can share information about COVID-19 in advance of the inauguration on Jan. 20. To watch the full briefing, click here.

Kyle Kellams is KUAF's news director and host of Ozarks at Large.
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