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story.lead_photo.caption Eric Schmett, right, of the city of Jonesboro Code Enforcement Unit, uses a no-touch forehead thermometer to check the temperature of Troy Doyle as he enters the Municipal Center on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Jonesboro, Ark. All city employees and visitors are screened before entering the building as part of a strategy to impede the spread of the coronavirus. (Quentin Winstine/The Jonesboro Sun via AP)

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas' governor on Wednesday announced new financial assistance for people and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including a temporary waiver of the state's work requirement for food stamps.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered the changes as Arkansas saw its coronavirus cases rise from 22 to 33, its largest single-day increase. The new cases also include the first in the state's northwest region.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus, which causes the disease called COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Hutchinson said the new assistance includes $12 million in federal funds being redirected to help businesses and nonprofits, including hospitals, hit hard by the virus. Another $4 million in state funds will go toward loans to help some mid-sized companies make payroll.

"The state cannot cover the loss of every business, but we can help to provide bridge loans to help companies weather this slowdown and to retain workers during this national emergency," said.

The help comes a day after Hutchinson eased some of the restrictions for seeking unemployment.

The governor also announced incentives for child care providers to remain open through March 27. The work requirement for food stamps will be suspended through May, according to the state Department of Human Services.

The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, which had already suspended in-person classes, announced Wednesday it was closing dorms, apartments and Greek houses managed by the school April 3. The school said it would allow students to petition for exceptions such as personal safety or lack of available housing.

Hutchinson said for now he's still planning for public schools in the state to re-open on March 30 after being closed for two weeks. But he said officials will keep monitoring guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as Arkansas' situation.

"I expect the cases will go up, and we have to make a decision as to what our future looks like and what we can manage," he said.

The Arkansas Education Association said it's talking frequently with state leaders and raised concerns that its members have about the outbreak's impact on schools.

"The longer our students are out of school the more concerns will arise, but considerations are being made for all students, certified and classified public school employees to ensure that their health, safety and financial security are at the forefront of the decisions being made by state officials," Carol Fleming, the group's president, said in a statement.

State Desk on 03/19/2020

Print Headline: Arkansas coronavirus cases rise, new assistance announced

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