Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced during his daily news conference Thursday that 62 people in Arkansas have now tested positive for COVID-19.
"This is not a surprise," he said. "It is simply a reflection of the additional testing capacity we have."
The number includes nine additional counties in the state.
The cases include six children, 15 adults ages 65 and older and 41 adults ages 19 to 64.
Hutchinson issued five directives, including keeping all of the state's K-12 schools closed until April 17.
The directives were formed with recommendations from the public health team. The directives are meant to help shorten the pandemic's timeframe.
Hutchinson assured that education will continue through alternative education methods.
The second directive from the governor is for all government employees to use telecommuting. The only on-site employees should be those who are necessary to be on site.
He said there are enormous unemployment claims that must be handled, along with Medicaid claims.
"We will be limiting exposure and the potential for transmission," he said.
Hutchinson also directed all hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities to screen all staff and visitors. He said most have already been doing that.
His fourth directive is for all bars and restaurants to close for dine-in service only. They can still offer delivery and take-out. Those with valid licenses will be able to sell sealed alcoholic beverages with the meals as well.
The ban on indoor dining will start today and continue until the state gets a handle on the disease.
Hutchinson wants to ensure as many businesses survive this pandemic as possible.
The fifth directive is for all indoor facilities, including gyms and fitness facilities, to close expect for essential functions.
Hutchinson said he is encouraging businesses to use telecommuting, video conferencing and remote work. He also asked that they screen staff and visitors and practice social distancing.
"We want to keep businesses open," he said.
While the state is not mandating the closing of religious facilities such as churches, mosques and synagogues, Hutchinson did encourage them to abide by the suggested restrictions not to hold large gatherings. He suggested canceling services.
Dr. Nate Smith, secretary for the Arkansas Department of Health, explained that a positive case is someone who has actually taken a test and received a positive result. Those who have been in contact with a positive case are not considered positive cases themselves, though he does still recommend self quarantine in those instances.
Smith recommends those who think they may have been infected use one of the drive through testing locations.
For now, his priority for investigating contacts are healthcare workers, those in nursing homes and long-term facilities and those who have been in large group settings.
Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, said the worst place to be screened is in an emergency room or physician's office. He said it is best to be screened through the phone, online or at a drive through testing location. There are eight locations in the state.
UAMS has screened 4,200 individuals. Half of those were administered Thursday. Twenty-five percent of those screened required testing. Of those, seven have tested positive.
He said that testing will see a plateau of positive cases about a week or so after control has been established.
UAMS has acquired new assays to test for the disease. Patterson said testing turn around time should increase to six to nine hours.
He pointed out that many blood donation venues have been closed due to the virus. He recommended anyone who can find a place — and an hour of time — to donate blood.
Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Gregory Bledsoe said testing is not where the state wants it currently, but is headed in the right direction.
He said the governor has issued a proclamation opening up telemedicine in order to limit exposure to the disease. It will allow people to stay home and still see their doctor. Insurance companies will now reimburse doctors for telemedicine.
Bledsoe said it is important to not only limit exposure, but to help rural clinics that might face financial hardship if their patients cannot come in.
He added that while the decision for insurance to pay for telemedicine has come from the top, the employees answering questions may not have gotten the memo so there could be some confusion.
Bledsoe asked that if anyone has large supplies of face masks or other medical protective items, they can contact him so that medical professionals can purchase those and get the resources they need.
The decision on foreclosures, rent and other financial concerns will be left up to the businesses involved, but Hutchison encouraged businesses and landlords to show compassion and understand there are many who are facing financial strain due to the pandemic.
"We are being very aggressive and leaning forward to get a handle on this," Hutchinson said.
On a local level, both Benton and Bryant mayors issued statements, echoing the governor's remarks regarding social distancing and protecting communities as the spread of COVID-19 continues.