PINE BLUFF, Ark. — With five new deaths reported in Jefferson County on Wednesday, including four at a White Hall nursing home, the county seat of Pine Bluff is being listed as one of the nation's hottest hot spots in the COVID-19 outbreak.
Those fatalities are being combined with the hundreds of positive cases at a prison in neighboring Lincoln County and drawing attention from national media outlets tracking where the virus is spreading in the United States.
"We've been trying to take away some of the negative stigma that Pine Bluff has been branded with for many years, and it's almost as if we can't get away from it," said Mayor Shirley Washington, expressing her disappointment that the entire region is listed as Pine Bluff by the federal government.
There was a spike in deaths at the Waters of White Hall nursing home, which is in the next town over. The Cummins Unit prison is an entire county away, but according to the U.S. Census, the rural area is technically a Pine Bluff suburb.
"It's all the way over in Lincoln County," mayor Washington said. "It's over in the Grady community, and then for us to be branded with those numbers I think is just so unfortunate for Pine Bluff."
The unofficial capital of the Arkansas Delta is not an oasis from the outbreak. Jefferson Regional Medical Center has treated many of the more than 100 cases in the area. Among them is the district's state representative.
"Emotionally, I'm concerned about the people in my district," said Rep. Vivian Flowers (D - Pine Bluff). She developed symptoms of COVID-19 last month but said she has recovered, though she has yet to get a negative test result.
Flowers says she has constituents among the staff that have tested positive at the nursing home, but she is less worried about the national attention the hot spots are getting.
Instead, she's focused on where the city fits in the national fight.
"I don't know if it's as much of a poor reflection as it is just impact that is happening worldwide. This is a global pandemic," she said. "What happens in New York, what happens in Michigan, what happens in Louisiana and what happens in Washington state is just as important as what happens in Pine Bluff."
Both Flowers and Washington agree that the nearby hot spots argue against a hurried re-opening of the economy in the area. Flowers believes there needs to be a better testing regimen put in place first, but she is also confident in her neighbors to come through the crisis despite the city's down-and-out reputation.
"People of Pine Bluff, we're resilient," she said. "We're strong. The people who are here are good people, hard workers and we love our city."