Arkansas’ health chief announces departure as virus surges


Arkansas’ top health official is leaving later this year as the state continues seeing a resurgence of coroanvirus cases.

Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel “Nate” Smith (pictured above), a fixture at the statewide COVID-19 briefings, announced Tuesday that he’s leaving Aug. 28 for a job with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Dr. Jose Romero, the department’s chief medical officer, will serve as its interim head.

Smith’s decision comes as the number of active coronavirus cases in the state continue to rise following decisions to reopen businesses. Smith said he hadn’t disagreed with the state’s approach to the pandemic.

At the governor’s Tuesday press briefing regarding the pandemic, it was reported that there are currently over 6,000 individuals who have tested positive, with 151 new individuals testing positive since yesterday. State officials also say 61,922 tests have so far been completed in Arkansas for the month of May.

Other highlights from the Tuesday briefing:

  • In the last 24 hours, 2,984 tests were processed with a 3.3 percent positivity rate. That’s good news, Hutchinson says since the rate is below the national numbers.
  • State hospitalizations due to the pandemic are currently at 107.
  • There have been two deaths since Monday, bringing the total to 119.
  • Arkansas is possibly on its way to a second peak. Officials say the direction that we go from here depends on the discipline and actions of the public. Phase Two cannot begin as long as there is an upward trajectory.
  • When asked
  • Most of the latest cases added were from the northwest Arkansas area. Today’s New York Times reported that the Fayetteville-Springdale area was number one on a list of areas in the country that could soon see an outbreak. (See screenshot below and click here for more.)
  • The governor said he was
  • And when asked why Arkansans should be concerned about a disease where 99 percent have recovered, Smith said that one percent of Arkansas’ population would be 30,000 deaths.

May 26 2020 screenshot of New York Times

The Associated Press contributed to this story. File image of Dr. Nate Smith

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