By Ray King

With Hurricane Laura expected to hit the Gulf Coast in the next few hours and hit Arkansas on Thursday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he has released $250,000 from the state’s Emergency Fund for storm preparations.

Speaking at his daily COVID-19 press conference, Hutchison said the state can expect flash flooding, winds of 40 to 45 mile-per-hour, or higher, and downed trees and power lines. He said the State Emergency Operations Center, which is currently dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, will now do double duty to monitor the storm and its aftermath.

He said he has also reached out to the Governor of Louisiana and offered assistance to that state if they need it.

On the subject of the pandemic, Hutchinson said there were 649 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s cumulative total to 58,023. There are currently 5,390 active cases and of those, 258 were in nursing homes, 727 in correctional facilities and the remaining 4,405 were in community settings.

The number of people hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 is now 435, that’s 7 fewer than on Tuesday and 21 additional deaths were reported bringing the sate total to 732. Dr. Jennifer Dillaha of the State Health Department said 6 of those deaths were in nursing homes and one was in a correctional facility but said there was no conductivity between the deaths and there were no more than two reported per county. She also said 70 percent of the victims were age 65 or over.

Hutchinson said he had been notified that there are no active cases of COVID-19 at either Cummins Prison or at the Quachita River Correctional facility at Malvern. Asked if that could result in the return of visitation to the prisons, Hutchinson said there would be some dialog about that but he did not think the current policy would change. He said visitors would add another level of risk by possibly allowing visitors who are infected with the virus to bring it into the prison and infect others.