LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas reached another one-day record for new coronavirus cases on Thursday, a spike health officials said was driven by the state's northwest region.

The Health Department said at least 6,538 people tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, an increase over the 6,277 reported Wednesday. The 261 new cases are the biggest daily increase among non-incarcerated individuals.

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 in Arkansas who have died from COVID-19 rose to 125.

Dr. Nathaniel Smith, the state's health secretary, said more than 40% of the new cases came from Benton and Washington counties in northwest Arkansas.

“With this second wave of COVID-19 cases we're having, it now is focused in northwest Arkansas," Smith said.

The region until recently had not seen the same level of virus cases as other parts of the state.

“I can’t help but think that many might have gained a false sense of confidence from that," said Sen. Greg Leding, a Democrat from Fayetteville.

Smith said the state will be holding additional testing events in Benton and Washington counties, and also hoped to partner with worksites that wanted to test their employees.

Smith said the state has seen a rapid increases in cases in the Latino community, particularly in the northwest region. Eighty-five percent of the new cases in Benton were in the Latino community, as were 40% of the new case in Washington County, he said.

He also said there's been increases in younger people testing positive.

“This is larger than a workplace associated outbreak," Smith said. “This involves entire communities."

Smith said the number of active cases, those excluding people who have recovered or died, has reached 1,830. The number of active cases has risen steadily since reaching a new high last week.

Thursday's increase in cases among the general population was the highest since May 21, when the state reported 226 new cases. That day, the state also reported its highest one-day increase in total cases, including those in correctional facilities.

Arkansas' cases have risen following moves by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to reopen businesses that had been shuttered during the pandemic. Arkansas was one of a handful of states without a stay-at-home order, but had other restrictions in place.

Hutchinson, a Republican, in recent weeks has allowed restaurant dining rooms, bars, hair salons, theaters, gyms and other businesses to reopen but with capacity limits and other social distancing restrictions. The state has also increased testing in recent weeks.

Hutchinson has said he doesn't plan on reversing those decisions and dismissed the idea of adding more restrictions in northwest Arkansas because of the spike.

“I don't think there's a way to single out...two counties and say we want to put more onerous burdens there," he said.


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