LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday backed off the possibility of allowing just some parts of the state to lift more coronavirus restrictions as the number of people hospitalized from the virus hit a new high.

It’s not clear when Hutchinson will allow “phase 2,” but he told reporters Monday that he’s not considering a loosening of restrictions by region, an idea he floated last week. Hutchinson said he's not ready to move away from the state's plan for the next wave of reopenings to happen statewide.

“We're not ready to make any jumps or changes in that direction," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson did not completely rule out the possibility of a regional approach later.

Arkansas' rise in recent days has come from northwest Arkansas, which earlier had not seen as much virus activity as other parts of the state. Eighty-six of the new cases came from Washington County, while another 41 came from Benton County. Hutchinson cited that change as a concern in shifting to a regional approach.

“What might be a safe region today might not be tomorrow," he said.

Arkansas in recent weeks has allowed businesses that closed because of the virus to reopen, but with limits on capacity and other safety measures. Arkansas was among a handful of states that did not have a stay-at-home order in place during the pandemic.

The Department of Health said Monday at least 9,740 people have tested positive for the virus, an increase over the 9,426 reported Sunday. The number of active cases, meaning they don't include people who have recovered or died, rose to 2,955.

The true number is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

The number of people hospitalized because of the illness caused by the virus increased by 26 Monday to 171, from 145 Sunday. The state's death count from COVID-19 increased to 155.

The 26 new hospitalizations are the biggest one-day increase Arkansas has since since the start of the pandemic, but Hutchinson and state Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith have said the state is not near its capacity for hospital beds.

The increase in cases also comes as the state has expanded its testing in recent weeks. Hutchinson has set a goal of testing 120,000 by the end of June.

Lifting restrictions by region would be a reversal for Hutchinson, who has called for a statewide approach to the virus and opposed allowing cities to impose their own stay-at-home orders.


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