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Arkansas coronavirus cases rise to 6; some schools closed

March 12, 2020 GMT
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, center, speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday, March 12, 2020, where Hutchinson announced the number of coronavirus cases in the state has risen to six and that his administration told public schools in four counties to temporarily close. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, center, speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday, March 12, 2020, where Hutchinson announced the number of coronavirus cases in the state has risen to six and that his administration told public schools in four counties to temporarily close. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The number of coronavirus infection cases in Arkansas has risen from one to six, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday as his administration told public schools in four counties to close temporarily.

Public schools in Grant, Jefferson, Pulaski and Saline counties will close for the next two weeks, Hutchinson said. State health officials said the five people COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were being isolated in their homes. The disease has infected more than 1,300 people in the United States and killed at least 39.

“It’s not a surprise, but it’s also a signal that we have to take additional steps of action,” Hutchinson said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 62,000 have so far recovered.

In Arkansas, State Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith said four of the newly identified cases had contact with a Pine Bluff patient the state identified Wednesday as its first coronavirus case. The other patient contracted it from someone out of state. The samples have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further confirmation.

One of the new cases was a trainee from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who worked at the Pine Bluff hospital where the initial patient is being treated. The trainee also practiced at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Officials said they were determining who else, including patients, may have come into contact with the trainee.

The announcements came as concerns about the coronavirus prompted further closures and cancellations throughout the state. Secretary of State John Thurston announced that the state Capitol would be closed to the public, with only authorized personnel allowed in for work purposes.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville said it was suspending in-person classes and would move to an all-online or other alternative method of course delivery starting Monday. Little Rock said it would close its community centers and Mayor Frank Scott asked that organizers of events in the city with more than 200 people reschedule.

Hutchinson said any additional school closings would be taken on a case-by-case basis. An emergency declaration Hutchinson signed Wednesday gives Smith, in consultation with the state education secretary, the authority to close public schools because of coronavirus.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ademillo