LITTLE ROCK - When Arkansas makes it past the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, restrictions on businesses and social interactions will be loosened carefully, always with the goal in mind to prevent a second wave of the pandemic.
The governor has announced that May 4 is the target date for some loosening of restrictions. He said that one of his priorities is for elective surgeries to become available again. Hospitals and clinics have put off elective surgeries because so many of their labor and resources have had to be dedicated to diagnosis and treatment of people with Covid-19.
Two groups appointed by the governor have been working to hasten the return to more normal business and social activities in Arkansas.
One group is called the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force. It has more than two dozen members whose purpose is to jump start the economy while remaining safely within public health guidelines.
The other group is composed of medical and public health professionals, and its duty is to expand our capacity to test for Covid-19.
Public health experts have expressed concern that if governments loosen social distancing requirements too soon, a second wave of the coronavirus could erupt. The balancing act for authorities is to get people back to work while at the same time protecting their health.
In order to boost economic activity, it's essential to have more comprehensive data on the prevalence and spreading of Covid-19, the governor said.
As of mid-week, more than 29,000 Arkansas residents had been tested for Covid-19
Contract tracing is critical for controlling the spread of the virus. That means quickly testing and diagnosing it, and tracing the people who have been in contact with the carrier. Contract tracing are the basis for effective quarantines and shelter-at-home policies.
Around the world, the hot spots are those locations where people gathered in large groups and contracted the virus, without knowing of their exposure.
In Germany and France, public health investigators now know that people got infected unknowingly during Lenten church services. Closer to home, people attending Mardi Gras contracted the virus and spread it to their communities before it was widely known how much the virus had spread.
The economic task force includes members from the faith community, in recognition of the number of Arkansans who are attend church regularly and for whom worship is more important than other social activities deemed essential by government officials.
Unemployment benefits have been a lifeline for many, but the surge in applications threatened to overwhelm staff at the Division of Workforce Services. Procedures were streamline and hours were lengthened so the division could more promptly process applications.
Also, the division built a new web site to handle applications. It is at this Internet address: ARunemployment.com
In related news, 27 rural hospitals in Arkansas will share $10 million from the Community Development Block Grant program to help them maintain medical services through the pandemic.
Facilities will each receive from $250,000 to $500,000. Also, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will receive $500,000 for its statewide telemedicine network.