By Ray King

A total of 48 inmates and two staff members at the Randall Williams Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections at Pine Bluff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith.

He made the announcement during Governor Asa Hutchinson’s daily COVID-19 briefing and said later in the briefing that all the inmates at the facility have now been tested but some testing of staff remans.

Smith said that once it is determined who is positive and who is negative, it will be a lot easier to control a potential outbreak. There are currently 862 active cases In the state and 295 of them are within correctional facilities.

On Tuesday, an additional 72 cases of COVID-19 were reported, bringing the state’s total to 4,236. Sixty-nine people are currently hospitalized and there have been two additional deaths, increasing the total there to 97.

Hutchinson used a chart to highlight the number of cases per county which showed St. Francis County, where the Federal Correctional Institute is located, to have the highest number of cases in Arkansas and Smith said a majority of the cases in that county were at the federal prison. The second highest number of cases in the state were in Pulaski County, which has the largest population in the state.

The chart showed that both Jefferson County, where the Randall Williams unit is located, and Lincoln County, where Cummins Prison is located, each had 70 to 79 active cases.

In response to a question about the possibility of using his emergency powers during the November General Election to restrict in person voting in favor of no-excuse absentee voting, Hutchinson said he didn’t know at this point what conditions would be like in November and his emergency powers could be used only in a true emergency.