- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The number of people in Arkansas hospitalized because of the coronavirus hit another new high Wednesday, while the state’s prisons went into lockdown because of an increase in virus cases among staff.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported the state’s hospitalizations due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose by 13 to 1,174.

The state’s virus cases rose by 3,184 to 222,430 and 34 more people died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total fatalities to 3,637.



“We continue to see high numbers of new cases and capacity pressures on our hospitals,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. “I urge everyone to be careful as we enter another holiday to reduce the virus spread, and we need to support each other as Arkansans while we work to distribute the vaccine.”

State Corrections Secretary Solomon Graves said all non-essential movement within or between facilities will be suspended until at least Jan. 15. The department said it will evaluate at that time whether to extend the lockdown.

The number of employees who had tested positive and were on leave increased from 139 on Dec. 22 to 192 on Tuesday, the department said.

“The goal of this lockdown is to lessen the impact of the increase in community cases,” Graves said in a statement.

A pilot program at four prisons allowing visitation to resume will be suspended during the lockdown, the department said. Only emergency intakes of inmates will be scheduled during the lockdown.

Arkansas has had one of the highest infection rates of prisoners in the country, according to data compiled by the Marshall Project and The Associated Press. More than 10,000 inmates have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.

Four percent of the state’s 1,155 intensive care unit beds and 22% of its 8,924 hospital beds are available, according to the Department of Health. There are 386 COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the state.

Dr. Cam Patterson, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said the hospital is taking additional steps including constructing an addition to its emergency department in an adjacent parking lot for triage and other purposes.

“Unless circumstances change drastically, this will get worse before it gets better,” Patterson wrote in a series of tweets Wednesday morning. “This virus is trying to break us here in the state of Arkansas, but while we are bending we are not about to break.”

Recent virus deaths include Gary Kelley, the police chief of the east Arkansas city of Marion. Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen said in a Facebook post Tuesday that Kelley died after a 25-day fight against COVID-19.

Kelley had served as police chief since 2007 and had been anticipating his retirement early next year, the city said on its Facebook page.

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