By Ray King

Arkansas recorded nearly 700 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson. That brings the state’s total to 17,375, with more than 5,000 of the cases being considered active.

At his daily COVID-19 briefing, Hutchinson said there are currently 267 people who are hospitalized and there have been 240 deaths.

In terms of where the cases were reported, the Governor said Hot Spring County had 168 cases and it is believed that many of them are from the Quachita River Correctional Facility in Malvern. Washington County reported 79 cases, down from the 117 cases reported there on Tuesday and Benton County reported 67, a number that also showed a decline from previous days.

Other counties with significant numbers of counties were Pulaski County with 51, Sebastian County with 40, Faulkner County with 29, most of them from Conway, and Yell and Columbia Counties with 26 each. State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith said most of the cases in Columbia County were from a nursing home in Magnolia.  All the other counties in the state had less than 20 new cases.

The Governor also talked about testing as the State has exceeded the 120,000 goal he set for the month of June and according to Smith, Arkansas will have tested about 140,000 people by the end of the month. He set a goal of testing 180,000 people by the end of July which will be six percent of the total population of the state.

“We’re going to go full guns on testing because that’s what we need to do to interrupt the COVID-19 chains,” Smith said.

Hutchinson also announced that he will ask the CARES Act steering committee to increase the number of people doing contact tracing from 350 to 700 to cope with the increase in new cases that are being reported. He said that increase will cost $22 million. He said he hopes to have those new contact tracers on board and working by mid-July.