As the numbers of hospitalized covid-19 patients, patients in intensive care units and on ventilators, and active coronavirus cases hit new daily highs on Friday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state is expediting licensing and waiving fees for the more than 1,100 nursing students graduating next month.
The state also hit a record in the number of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests conducted in 24 hours, with 15,095 tests reported Friday.
A new quarantining directive for health care workers was also to be released later Friday afternoon, allowing for those providers exposed to covid-19 to return to patient care within days instead of weeks.
Hutchinson said the state needs those new nurses on board quickly to relieve "some of the challenges that we face."
"The fact that we will expedite, that will make it easier for those nurses to enter the profession and go to work at a time that their talents, their heart is critically needed," Hutchinson said.
Another 2,061 covid-19 cases were added Friday, raising the cumulative total since the pandemic began to 141,916. Deaths from the virus rose by 24 to 2,321.
Covid-19 hospitalizations in the state rose by 36 to 935, while another six covid-19 patients were placed on ventilators, raising the total to 152 patients on ventilators.
The number of active cases in the state reached an all-time high of 17,360, up 362 from the previous day.
Hutchinson announced that 1,104 Arkansas nursing students will graduate next month and that the state Nursing Board has been directed to license the new nurses within a 24-hour period.
The application fee, which typically ranges from $100 to $125, will be waived. The nurses are still required to pay the $30 background-check fee, the governor said.
In addition, UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson — who is also a member of the Governor's Winter Task Force — said health care workers who have been exposed to covid-19 and test negative after five to seven days can return to the workforce.
Also, health care workers who test positive for covid-19 but are asymptomatic can return to work, but they can only treat covid-19 patients.
Read Saturday's Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
This story has been updated. The original version is below:
12:21 p.m.: WATCH LIVE: Governor, state health officials to give 2:30 p.m. virus update
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials will provide an update on Arkansas' covid-19 response at 2:30 p.m.
The total number of coronavirus cases reported in Arkansas remained at 139,855 Friday morning, according to a state website. The death toll remained at 2,297.