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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters during his daily briefing at the Capitol in Little Rock in this May 15 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he is considering a regional approach to further lifting of restrictions in the state as new covid-19 cases soar in Northwest Arkansas but remain lower in other areas.

Discussion of the regional strategy came at the same time the state saw a near-record number of daily new covid-19 cases among its nonincarcerated population, 356. The daily record of 374 was reported Tuesday.

Department of Health Secretary Nate Smith said Thursday nine more people have died of covid-19, bringing the toll to 151. He said five or six of those were nursing home residents who did not die in the past 24 hours, though, but had died earlier and were only now being reported to the state.

Smith said 137 Arkansans remain hospitalized with covid-19, one fewer than the record set Wednesday.

The 356 new community cases and two additional cases in correctional facilities bring the total reported cases to 8,425, including 2,355 active cases.

Of the new cases, 111 are from Washington County, 92 are from Benton County, 34 are from Pulaski County and 12 were from Crittenden County and 10 were from Sevier County.

Hutchinson for months has said a statewide approach to closings and reopenings is best, citing for instance how different parts of the state work in concert to facilitate business, among other things.

He said given the stark difference in the outbreaks across the state, though, “you’ve got to at least consider” regional variations in restrictions. He added "it’s important" to get to Phase 2 of reopening, which would, for instance, allow businesses to operate with fewer restrictions on capacity.

A decision on moving forward regionally or as a state won’t be made before next week, he said.

EARLIER: Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials will provide an update on Arkansas' covid-19 response at 1:30 p.m.

The total number of cases reported by the Arkansas Department of Health remained at 8,067 Thursday morning. The death toll remained at 142.

Check back to watch the live video.

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