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The number of positive COVID-19 cases increased by 62 cases from Tuesday, a record jump for the state, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Secretary of Health Dr. Nathan Smith announced during the daily press briefing Wednesday.

Arkansas now has 280 confirmed cases and added Drew and Hot Spring counties reporting the virus.

Smith said of the 280 cases, 13 are children 18 or younger, 94 are 65 and older, and 173 are adults 19-64. He said 12 patients are hospitalized, four are on ventilators, 41 are in nursing homes and 11 meet the recovery criteria.

During the briefing, Hutchinson announced the Arkansas State Medical Board approved expedited temporary licenses to medical residents who’ve completed a year of their internship program.

Hutchinson said 15 residents have applied for those licenses. He also said the medical board has granted about 100 physician licenses in march, and the state nursing board, which also approved expedited licensure, has granted 300 new nurse licenses through the process this month.

“I applaud them that are meeting the need and urgency of the current health crisis,” Hutchinson said.

The governor also announced a plan to make the CDC’s 10 people or fewer gatherings guideline into a state directive.

“While many Arkansans are abiding (by the guideline), there are exceptions to that,” Hutchinson said. “Those exceptions can endanger what we’re trying to do to get a handle on (the virus).”

Hutchinson said the directive, which will be written with the help of Smith, will most likely be announced Thursday.

“I want to urge Arkansans to be mindful about where they are and who they’re with in public spaces, and don’t clump all together,” Smith said.

Smith also noted it’s important to maintain contact, electronically or virtually, with friends, family members, neighbors and particularly those who are older to maintain good mental health and social cohesion

Smith said the directive is there to provide guidance and safety to Arkansas. He also said some gatherings outdoors, if kept to low numbers, would be safer since there is better ventilation and the sun’s UV radiation tends to degrade the virus.

Hutchinson said state directives carry the weight of a law, but are put in place in the interest of public health and reducing the spread of the virus.

“(We) want the public to understand this is a need we have to take this precaution to avoid other unnecessary steps considered in other states or implemented,” he said. “I don’t want to go to a shelter in place environment, I don’t want to shut down manufacturing. I don’t want to go to that step. … This is a way we want to say it’s not just a guideline, it’s a directive if we’re going to be a successful state.”

Sec. Nate Todd of the Department of Veteran Affairs also spoke at the meeting advising veterans that the hospitals that serve them are available online and over the phone.

Update: By presstime, the number of confirmed cases in the state increased to 301. Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s media briefing was at 1:30 p.m.. He and Dr. Nathan Smith gave the numbers and updates accurate for that time.

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