On a local level, Jefferson County positive COVID-19 cases have remained steady with a gradual incline totaling 162 cases as of Wednesday, April 29. On a national level, the New York Times has ranked Pine Bluff, Ark., as one of the top emerging hot spots in the nation -- a matter the Arkansas governor says is misleading because they considered the prison outbreaks in their statistics.

On a local level, Jefferson County positive COVID-19 cases have remained steady with a gradual incline totaling 162 cases as of Wednesday, April 29. On a national level, the New York Times has ranked Pine Bluff, Ark., as one of the top emerging hot spots in the nation -- a matter the Arkansas governor says is misleading because they considered the prison outbreaks in their statistics.
“Instead of the city of Pine Bluff, they considered the metropolitan area of Pine Bluff in their statistical data, which included Cummins Prison, which included large numbers, hundreds and hundreds of COVID positive inmates that are really not part of the Pine Bluff community itself,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday. “Clearly that was misleading.”

An article published by the New York Times on April 28, said Pine Bluff, Ark., ranked fourth with the highest averaged daily growth rate of cases with 757 cases, a 19% growth rate with cases doubling every 3.9 days. Pine Bluff also ranked fourth as an area where an outbreak is worst currently with the most recent cases and deaths, relative to population in the last two weeks with 758 recent cases, which averages 8.47 per 1,000 according to New York Times.

Lastly, the article indicated Pine Bluff ranked eighth as the area with high cumulative cases and death rates since the outbreak, with a population of 89,515 with 927 cases.

With a population of roughly 42,000 people and only 162 cases in Jefferson County according to the Arkansas Department of Health, the numbers just don’t make sense.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington agreed that the New York Times got it wrong. "They are saying that we are a hot spot because of the outbreak at the prison down south at Grady in Lincoln County," Washington said in a news release. "They have over 800 positive inmates in the prison alone. There are 50 plus employees infected. We have had less than 200 in all of Jefferson county."  . "I have been dealing with this report since early Monday morning when I first heard it from a reporter with the New York Times. It seems that across the country they put the prisons in a region and they label the largest city closest to the prison with the count. That's Pine Bluff.  It is so unfair. I have found that it is happening to cities all over the country," she said.

When asked by a Pine Bluff Commercial reporter during Wednesday’s press conference, where the New York Times received those numbers and how did they come up with that data for Pine Bluff, Hutchinson pointed out the problem wasn’t the data, but how the data was construed and put together.

According to Meg Mirivel, director of communications at the Arkansas Department of Health, the New York Times used the counties that made up Pine Bluff’s metropolitan statistical area.

The Pine Bluff Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the United States Census Bureau, is a three-county region in Southeast Arkansas, anchored by the city of Pine Bluff in Jefferson County. The others are Cleveland and Lincoln counties.

According to ADH, as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, Lincoln County has 755 positive cases and Cleveland County only has 10 cases. Both the Cummins Prison Unit and Varner Prison Unit are located in Lincoln County.

According to the Arkansas Department of Correction, 921 inmates in Arkansas prisons are positive for COVID-19 as of April 28, 2020.

Like Pine Bluff, officials in other communities also had similar concerns with the numbers in their regions. A New York Times staff editor, Toni Monkovic, responded to multiple concerns in the comments on the original New York Times story, saying the New York Times did use metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

Pine Bluff had the first reported positive case of COVID-19 in Arkansas on March 11, however the governor applauded the city's efforts to address the pandemic.

“It didn’t tell the entire story," said Hutchinson about the New York Times article. "I think Pine Bluff has done a very, very, good job responding to this pandemic. You had some of the first cases there, but you managed it very well and I think that just was not reflected in the story.”