- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 13, 2021

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas lawmaker has tested positive for the coronavirus, a House spokeswoman said on Wednesday, days after the Legislature began this year’s session.

Rep. Milton Nicks told the House speaker Wednesday he tested positive for the virus, spokeswoman Cecillea Pond-Mayo said. Nicks, a Democrat from Marion, had minor symptoms, Pond-Mayo said.

Nicks is the 22nd Arkansas legislator to test positive for the virus since the pandemic began. The state has had one of the biggest known outbreaks of the virus in a state legislature.

Nicks was at the Capitol on Monday for the beginning of this year’s session, Pond-Mayo said. Video showed he was listed as present as lawmakers gathered for Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s State of the State address. Pond-Mayo said officials had begun contact tracing procedures.

Legislative leaders have implemented safety measures in response to the virus, including installing plastic partitions in both chambers, temperature checks and limited seating in committee rooms. The Senate on Monday passed a rule requiring members and staff to wear a mask in its chamber, and similar rules were advanced by a House panel Wednesday.

The Department of Health reported that the state’s COVID-19 deaths rose by 65. It was the state’s biggest one-day increase since Dec. 29, when 66 deaths were reported. There have been 4,186 COVID-19 deaths in the state since the pandemic began.

The state’s virus cases rose by 2,467 to 262,020. Eight more people were hospitalized, bringing the state’s total to 1,362.

Four percent of the state’s 1,170 intensive care unit beds and 21% of its 8,925 hospital beds are available, according to the Department of Health. There are 432 COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the state.

“Our efforts to wear a mask, keep our distance, and wash our hands frequently must remain steady as we continue to distribute vaccine doses across the state,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. Hutchinson on Tuesday announced that the state’s distribution of the coronavirus vaccine will expand next week to teachers and people 70 and older.


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