By Ray King

Governor Asa Hutchinson said Friday he has signed an executive order enabling voters who have concerns about going to the polls in the general election because of COVID-19 to qualify for an absentee ballot.

At his daily COVID-19 press conference, the Governor said the order follows up statements by Secretary of State John Thurston who brought up the idea several weeks ago. He said changes are also being made to the amount of time that County Clerks have to prepare absentee ballot envelopes for counting. However, counting of those ballots may not begin until 8:30 a.m.

Hutchinson also reported on the number of COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, saying that there were 1,011 new cases, 182 of them in Pulaski County. One hundred of those cases were at the Department of Corrections Wrightsville Unit.

Jefferson County was second in the number of new cases, followed by Crawford County, Mississippi County, Sebastian County, Washington County, Independence County and Benton County.

Hospital admissions increased by nine to 523 and there were six additional deaths, raising the state total to 521.

There are 7,158 active cases, 53 in nursing homes, 687 in correctional facilities and 6,418 in community settings.

On another subject, Hutchinson announced his support for a proposal from the State Education Department to use $20 million of federal funds from the CARES Act to create a fund to compensate teachers and support staff who have to quarantine because of COVID-19.

Education Secretary Johnny Key said his department proposed the idea after receiving questions from a number of people across the state. The funds must be used by the end of the year.