By Ray King

The Arkansas Department of Corrections has stopped in-person visitation at its units as a part of the reaction to the COVID-19 virus.

During the governor’s daily news conference on the Coronavirus, ADC Director Wendy Kelly said those visits were halted March 16. She said fees have been lowered for telephone and video visiting, and for sending emails. In addition, Kelly said probation and parole fees for March were waived.

She said no inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and one staff member who works outside and ha no contact with inmates.

Before Kelly spoke, Governor Asa Hutchinson said Arkansas Correctional Industries has started making cloth face masks for inmates and prison staff. Kelly said correctional industries will be able to make 80,000 cloth face masks, with 20,000 of them being used by the department and another 5,000 that have been ordered by the medical provider for the department.

She said state officials will decide where the other masks will be used, depending on the need.

In terms of numbers, Hutchinson said there have been 643 cases of COVID-19 reported, an increase of 47 from the 584 reported Wednesday. Fifth-six people are hospitalized, a decrease of 10, and there have been two more deaths reported, bringing the total to 12.

State Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith eight of the 12 deaths were people over the age of 65 while the other four were between 18 and 64.

Of the 643 cases, Smith said 20 of them are children under the age of 17, another 183 are over 65, and the remainder, 440, are between 18 and 64.

Hutchinson also talked about the shelter-in-place orders that have been issued in other state and said Arkansas has gotten a bad rap for not doing that. However, he said the actions that have been taken, including closing schools, restaurant dine-in service, barber shops, beauty shops, gyms and the like has produced good results.

He went on to say that if he were to issue such an order, about 900,000 Arkansas residents would still get up and go to work because their jobs would be considered essential, and people would still get out and go to the grocery stores, or gas stations, or convenience stores, or drive-in restaurants.

“If the job is essential, it would be exempted,” Hutchinson said.