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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

AR Gov. Asa Hutchinson sets up new task force as Natural State sets new COVID-19 records

Arkansas reported new daily highs for coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — With new daily records set Friday in Arkansas for both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a new winter task force to stabilize the situation. 

The numbers show the impact is even greater in the smaller hospitals spread out across northeast Arkansas.

"What's happening right now - this is not a process that we want to sustain," Arkansas Preparedness Medical Director Dr. Jerrilyn Jones said.

Arkansas health experts sent that warning Friday across the Natural State.

"The winter months pose specific challenges for us," Gov. Hutchinson said.

That's why the governor announced a COVID-19 winter task force, to better coordinate caseload, assist with staff, and cut down on hospital strain across Arkansas. 

"We are not going to wait for a written report," Gov. Hutchinson said. "We are going to take action as needed."

According to the governor, late this week, COVID-19 patients at northeast Arkansas hospitals averaged 16% of all hospital beds in use, but an average of 30% of ICU beds and about 45% of ventilators, all above the state average.

This as medical personnel across Arkansas power through the pandemic.

"The strain on our staff; they've been at this eight months, many of the hospital staff, too large a number, has to be quarantined themselves because of exposure," Gov. Hutchinson said.

While significant COVID-19 challenges remain for Arkansas, Gov. Hutchinson said there are no plans for any kind of statewide shutdown.

"You can't rule out anything but that's not the direction we are going, we want to keep our economy open and if people do what they need to do you don't have to shut it down," Gov. Hutchinson said.

The task force will hold its first meeting Monday morning.

To protect yourself and others, the ADH recommends: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. Practice physical distancing. Avoid close contact with others, especially those who are sick, by keeping at least 6 feet between you and others.