ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The first known COVID-19 related death in Arkansas was a 90-year-old Cleburne County resident. He died on Tuesday, March 24, at 8 a.m., according to Faulkner Deputy Coroner Robert Edwards.
Governor Asa Hutchinson confirmed two coronavirus deaths during his daily afternoon briefing — both deaths happened in central Arkansas. All that is known about the second death is that the person was a 50-year-old.
Cleburne County, in central Arkansas, has a population of nearly 26,000, of which more than 8,000, or 33%, are over the age of 60.
The area is served by Baptist Health Medical Center-Heber Springs for those who need medical assistance, however, there are not any ICU beds.
The 90-year-old man died in neighboring Faulkner County at Conway Regional Medical Center, per the coroner.
The distance from Cleburne to the city of Conway in Faulkner County is about an hour’s drive. Most who need urgent medical care are transported by ambulance and the drive time is cut by half, according to Heber-Springs Mayor Jimmy Clark.
Nearly three dozen COVID-19 cases have been reported in Cleburne County as of Tuesday, March 24. The most of any county in Arkansas.
As for “why” Cleburne County has 30-plus cases of the coronavirus and nearby Conway County has between one to four cases? It was something Clark couldn’t answer. Except to say that testing for the virus has increased. “And the more people who get tested it would seem more positive cases may be expected to happen.”
Clark said the county is working closely with the hospital, and at the same time making sure emergency services are not overburdened.
Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook a public service announcement that reads in part, “As of Monday, March 16th, the Sheriff’s Office began taking all non-emergency reports and calls for service over the phone, instead of in-person.”
Below is the notice for court proceedings.
Mayor Clark said he’s thankful the way the community is coming together. He said money has been donated to take meals to seniors and to kids. “I feel confident we’re doing the right thing by not overcrowding. And we’re following the recommended guidelines for closing businesses, and such.”
The economic outcome and everyone’s health moving forward is unknown. “But, we are cautious with the information we give out because this [the virus] is changing so rapidly … we are making sure the community takes care of each other.”
In early March, Clark filed a declaration of emergency, in connection to the coronavirus, at the state and federal level to hopefully get some funds their way. The declaration includes cities within the county and it was formally filed by Cleburne County Judge Jerry Holmes.
KNWA/FOX24 reached out to Judge Holmes for comment but he was not available at the time of this story.