LITTLE ROCK — A sixth inmate at an Arkansas prison has died from the illness caused by the coronavirus, health officials said Wednesday, as the governor pledged to conduct 60,000 tests for the virus statewide this month.
Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith said the inmate at the Cummins Unit was one of two new coronavirus deaths reported Wednesday, bringing the state's total deaths to 85.
The number of people who have tested positive for the virus is at least 3,568, an increase over the 3,496 reported Tuesday. The true number is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
At least 876 inmates and 54 staff have tested positive at Cummins, and Smith has said they're testing an additional 100 inmates at the facility.
"We'll be done testing at Cummins when we stop having people who are symptomatic or need to be tested," Smith said. "Even those who have tested negative previously, if they develop symptoms, we're going to go ahead and test them."
A federal judge planned to hold a hearing Thursday in the lawsuit filed by a group of inmates accusing the state of not doing enough to prevent the virus's spread following the outbreak at Cummins. Correction officials said Tuesday that some Cummins staff who tested positive for the virus but were asymptomatic were allowed to continue working at the facility.
Smith said the other new death was a patient at a nursing home.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has committed to sending the state 90,000 test swabs and kits this month.
Hutchinson said the state planned to perform 60,000 tests this month, which would ramp up its testing from about 1,500 a day currently.
Arkansas did not issue a stay-at-home order that most other states had, but imposed other restrictions the governor has rolled back in recent days. Barbershops and hair salons were allowed to open on Wednesday, and restaurant dining rooms are set to reopen on Monday but with new social distancing rules and capacity limits.
Smith said the state is moving up its plans to allow dentists to resume performing non-emergency procedures from May 18 to Monday. Smith said the decision came after input from the the state Dental Association that dentists had enough protective supplies in place to comply with new rules.