Yesterday, Governor Asa Hutchinson held his weekly coronavirus response briefing ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. The briefing follows more high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, deaths and record hospitalizations. Hutchinson said the increased volume of cases has been challenging for contact tracers and the average timeframe from collection of the specimen until it reaches the Arkansas Department of Health system is about 37 hours. Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero made a familiar plea urging Arkansans to shift away from many holiday norms for the sake of their communities.

Courtesy / Mercy Health System

With a rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, Mercy Fort Smith is proactively reaching out to patients and asking them to consider becoming plasma donors. Convalescent plasma may contain antibodies that may help patients fighting the virus. Donors need to be fully recovered for 28 days before donating plasma.

Courtesy / Springdale School District

Two days before the Thanksgiving holiday, the superintendent of the Springdale School District announced all schools would be pivoting to remote learning until Dec. 7. Superintendent Jarred Cleveland said there were too many staff who had tested positive for COVID-19 or had to be quarantined due to possible exposure that they weren't sure there would be enough substitute teachers to fill those roles for a number of days.

D. Caruth / KUAF

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning against holiday travel and family gatherings, many restaurants are boosting their sales by offering more to-go options for people whose Thanksgiving dinners have been canceled or scaled back because of COVID-19. 

Courtesy / Lindsey Management

The state's Fresh Start Program, which allocated $10 million in federal CARES Act funding for rental assistance, opened to applicants on Nov. 9. In Washington County, the Economic Opportunity Agency, which is administering the funding to renters in the area, received over 900 applications in just one week.

Arkansas service and hospitality businesses impacted by the pandemic have until Wednesday at midnight to apply for Business Interruption Program grants, made available through the federal CARES Act. Stacy Hurst,  Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, as well as Mary Beth Brooks, director of  the Small Business Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas describe the process and need. The help line number is (888) 722-1554.

Courtesy / City of Springdale

As city and county governments across Arkansas receive reimbursements from the state's allotment of CARES Act funding, Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse explains what the city will do with its nearly $2.9 million share. He says a discussion about purchasing a firing range for the police department got incorrectly mixed up with a discussion about the federal funds.

Courtesy / University of Arkansas

Last week, Fayetteville Health Officer Dr. Marti Sharkey sent a letter to University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz on behalf of the city's Health Board asking him to consider the rapid community spread and hospital capacity in Northwest Arkansas when deciding whether to bring students back to campus after Thanksgiving.

Arkansas heads into the weekend with another day of more than 2,000 new cases of COVID-19. The Arkansas Department of Health is reporting 2,061 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus, along with 24 additional deaths. Hospitalizations also reached a new high of 935. At a briefing in Little Rock today, Dr. Cam Patterson, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and member of the governor's Winter COVID-19 Task Force, discussed new guidelines for healthcare workers who are exposed to or infected with the coronavirus. Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr.

Courtesy / Washington Regional Medical System

Heading into November, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the establishment of the Winter COVID-19 Task Force. One of the task force members is Larry Shackelford, the president and CEO of Washington Regional Medical System. Shackelford discusses his role in the group, regional hospital capacity and his concerns about the numerous holidays coming up in the next few weeks.