Policy and administrative changes continue to move quickly at the state and federal level in response to COVID-19. Arkansas Advocates for Children Families will work to keep you updated on policy news at the end of each week.
Click here to see AACF’s short-term recommendations for addressing the crisis at the state level. More pandemic-related blogs and publications are available here.
Results from Surge Campaign
Last week Governor Hutchinson announced a surge testing campaign that took place last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. During the weekend, the state met its goal of over 1,500 tests per day. The percentage of positive tests has been consistently below 10 percent, which is a benchmark that gives state leaders confidence that that the virus isn’t spreading undetected.
At the Governor’s press conference on Friday, Dr. Michelle Smith, Director of the Office of Health Equity at the Department of Health, discussed the disparities in COVID-19 cases for people of color. She explained that underlying conditions that are connected to social determinants of health like poverty, limited access to health insurance, affordable housing, and fewer healthy food choices likely contribute to higher COVID-19 cases among the members of this population. She said the Department of Health is collaborating with community partners to address these issues. Smith announced that the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame has launched its COVID Relief Initiative that will provide mini-grants of up to $1,000 for organizations addressing hardships due to COVID-19. Building on its Cut and Counsel program with barber shops and beauty salons, the Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity will be providing a free seminar on Tuesday May 5 about reducing COVID-19 transmission risk.
State Parks Opening Back Up: May 1
The state is beginning to reopen. Arkansas State Parks are expanding their activities for Arkansas residents. Arkansans can begin R.V. camping in self-contained campers today (May 1). On May 15 marinas and restaurants will be open while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Cabins, lodges, and rental R.V.s will be open Friday-Monday only, to allow time for cleaning.
Gyms Open on May 4
On May 4, the state will allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen with restrictions. Some restrictions apply, including screening staff and patrons; staff and patrons must wear face masks, except when they are actively exercising; and hand sanitizer must be provided. Equipment must be cleaned after each use, and patrons must be socially distanced 12 feet apart. Team sports and the use of swimming pools are not permitted.
Opening Hair Salons, Barber Shops, Spas, and Similar Businesses: May 6
Hair salons, barber shops, cosmetology, massage therapy, body art, and medical spa service businesses can reopen on Wednesday, May 6. Restrictions will apply, such as limiting the number of people inside the business, requiring appointments, practicing social distancing, wearing of masks by staff and clients, and recording client names and contact information. This is phase one of three phases of reopening, with phase three being full reopening.
Dine-In Services for Restaurants Beginning May 11
Restaurants will be allowed to open for dine-in service on May 11 with 33 percent occupancy. Restaurants must maintain social distancing guidelines, and staff must wear masks and conduct staff screenings. This is phase one of three phases, with phase three being the resumption of full operations. The dates for phase two and three will be announced later and will be data-driven.
Arkansas Ready for Business
The state announced $15 million in grants to help companies restart as the economy reopens. Grants can be up to $100,000 and can be used for things like one-time expenses related to reopening and sanitizing products. The grant program, through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is subject to legislative approval and is open to all businesses. The website went live for about an hour on Wednesday before the funding had been approved by the Legislative Council. During that time, there were more than 2,300 applications submitted, mostly by businesses with fewer than 50 staff people, with requests totaling over $36 million. The state has requested an additional $85 million for the program for the Legislative Council to approve. The application is currently closed pending funding approval. You can learn more here.
As of Wednesday, Arkansas had 194 people conducting case investigations and contact tracing. More people are being trained to do this work, which helps state officials follow where the virus may be spreading in communities and attempt to contain it.
You can find the most recent COVID-19 data for Arkansas, including demographic and location data, here in the middle of the webpage below “ADH COVID-19 Status Updates.” In the Cummins prison, 860 people who are incarcerated and 51 staff have tested positive. At the federal prison in Forrest City, 135 inmates have tested positive.
Last week an additional 3.8 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance, bringing the national total to over 30 million people.
Arkansas is still falling behind the national average on response to the 2020 Census. As of Thursday, Arkansas had 49.6 percent self-response rate, compared to the national average 54.3 percent. Arkansas Advocates has created a list of resources for your census outreach.
Arkansas United COVID-19 Page in Spanish: Para información sobre COVID-19 en Español
Marshallese Education Initiative COVID-19 Page in Marshallese: Ñan melele ko ikijeen COVID-19 ilo kajin Majõl
Marshallese Call-In Line: UAMS Northwest started a dedicated call-in center this week for people who speak Marshallese and suspect they need a COVID-19 test. Calls will be answered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The number is (479) 713-8708. UAMS has also established an interpretation line for health care providers to use if they need help serving Marshallese patients. It’s available 24 hours a day. For more information about that resources (for health providers only), contact Stacia Dean at SNDean (at) uams.edu or Betsy O’Connor at GEOconnor (at) uams.edu.
Applying for assistance programs: Legal Aid of Arkansas has created a fact sheet breaking down how to apply for Medicaid, SNAP food assistance, and unemployment benefits. Legal Aid has also created a comprehensive guide.
Receiving stimulus payments: Arkansas Advocates has created a fact sheet on how to receive the federal Economic Impact Payment from the CARES Act.
Applying for Health Care Coverage After Losing a Job: People who have lost their workplace health care coverage in the last 60 days due to the pandemic may qualify for a marketplace qualifying health plan. You can determine your options with the Arkansas Insurance Department at 1-844-355-3262 or www.myarinsurance.com.
Guidance for those with underlying health conditions: The CDC has produced these guidelines for those with underlying health conditions during the COVID-19 crisis.
Arkansas 211: 211 is a free, statewide telephone service that connects individuals in need to important community services in the state of Arkansas like food pantries, health programs, crisis intervention, shelters, and more. Just call “211.”
Bank On Arkansas+: For individuals and families without bank accounts who would like to open an account to receive federal emergency payments more quickly, Bank On Arkansas+ connects individuals with banks and credit unions that offer checking accounts that are certified safe, affordable and provide direct deposit to receive payments electronically. You can find more information here.
Applying for Unemployment Insurance: There is a new option to apply for unemployment insurance online or by phone. You can apply here.
Self-Employed Workers Unemployment Assistance: Gig and self-employed workers can now sign up to receive updates on when they can apply for unemployment benefits here. You can also see what documentation you will need for when you file here.
Applying for Medicaid, ARKids First (children’s health insurance), or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps): The Department of Human Services has made changes encouraging the public to avoid in-person visits to DHS county offices and is allowing fewer people in the lobbies at the same time, increasing wait times. People are encouraged to apply online at www.Access.Arkansas.gov or to use the phone application option by calling 1-855-372-1084. County offices will be installing drop-off boxes for paper applications. And required SNAP interviews may be conducted by phone rather than in person.
WIC (nutrition assistance program for Women, Infants and Children): Contact your county Department of Health office for information on how to apply.
Department of Health Updates: You can get the latest COVID-19 updates from the Department of Health here.
Finding a food pantry: Some pantries may be closed, so call ahead to confirm.
Arkansas Foodbank pantry map
Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas food pantry network
Harvest Regional Food Bank (Texarkana)
Food Bank of North Central Arkansas
Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
River Valley Regional Food Bank