The state's death toll has reached 33 with Jefferson County recording its sixth patient to pass away from COVID-19.
The first inmate tested positive at the Arkansas Department of Correction Cummins Unit on April 12.
Since then, according to the ADC, 61 inmates/residents (includes Residents in the Community Correction Centers and Supervision Sanction Programs), 28 facility security staff, 6 facility non-security staff and 1 non-facility (includes Central Office Staff, Parole & Probation Officers, Teachers, etc.) staff have tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 14.
Those numbers are included in the state’s total number of 1,569 cumulative COVID-19 cases with 1,047 active, and were announced during Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson’s press conference Wednesday.
During Tuesday’s press conference ADC Director Dexter Payne stated that steps had been made to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the prison, including requiring all the inmates to wear face masks.
According to a Pine Bluff family who have loved ones in the unit, they allege all inmates aren’t provided with masks.
“We have loved ones that we are concerned about,” said a woman over the phone to the Pine Bluff Commercial who asked to remain anonymous. “There are inmates in restricted housing and isolation who don’t have masks.”
According to Dina Tyler, ADC Communications Director, she understands the family’s concern but points out reasons masks are not needed in those instances.
“They are in a cell by themselves, so they don’t need a mask,” said Tyler. “If we have to take them out of that cell then they will get a mask.”
Tyler also addressed another family concern when it came to food handling.
“The food handlers in prison wear masks and gloves,” said Tyler.
So far only one barrack is infected by COVID-19, which Payne says is isolated from everyone else.
Tyler adds the masks that are provided to the inmates are being made in a separate building from the prison.
“There have been concerns because the masks are being manufactured at Cummins,” said Tyler. “Those masks are made in the garment factory. They didn’t come from inside the Cummins Unit and the inmates who have been making the masks are not the same inmates that are positive.”
While the question, how did the coronavirus get inside of a congregated prison environment, remains to be unanswered, family members worry about the employees who go back and forth from their homes to work.
Dr. Nate Smith, ADA Secretary of Health, said in Wednesday’s press conference that things are being done to get COVID-19 under control within the prison walls.
“The most important thing is getting control of the outbreaks of COVID-19 within those prisons. The sooner we can get those under control the less risk it is to those workers,” said Smith. “The second is appropriate use of PPE and other measures to protect those workers from getting infected in the first place.”
Smith said they are testing all employees, even asymptomatic individuals.
“We will try to identify as many workers that may already be infected,” said Smith.
Once those employees are identified, Smith said they will provide proper education to those workers to help them to limit exposure to other people outside the prison walls if they test positive and how explain how to safely isolate at home.
The state’s death toll has reached 33 with Jefferson County recording its sixth patient to pass away from COVID-19.
According to Jefferson County Coroner Chad Kelly on Tuesday, a JRMC patient died from Cardio Respiratory Arrest due to COVID-19. The patient was a white males in his 70s.
Arkansas patients in the hospital have increased to 83 with 26 on ventilators.
Previously projected to peak April 24, Hutchinson said Arkansas's peak has shifted to May 2.
“The goal has always been to flatten the curve,” Hutchinson said, “by flattening the curve, the peak will shift.”
Smith said moving forward testing criteria would relax allowing everyone with symptoms related to COVID-19 to test at facilities that have the adequate supplies to do so.
In the past, priority testing was only for healthcare workers, long-term care facilities, hospitals, patients and patients 65 and older with symptoms and underlying conditions.
Smith said with broader testing abilities in Arkansas, contact tracing is very important as they plan to give guidance to the future.