Gov. Asa Hutchinson took his daily coronavirus briefing to West Memphis today and led the news with the lack of new confirmed cases since yesterday. He noted a couple of cases have been confirmed across the river in Memphis.
Hutchinson quickly added that the state hadn’t yet had adequate testing to assess the extent of the illness in the state. As testing expands, the number of cases likely will, he said.
He said the supply chain continued to function and grocery stores and gas stations remain open. He cautioned against panic buying.
He insisted that education will continue in Arkansas and he expects schools to reopen March 30 after spring break.
He said it was at his direction that all three casinos in Arkansas had closed. He said this provides time to evaluate “where we are.” He said he knew this was an economic hardship, such as for the 900 hourly workers at Southland Gaming in West Memphis.
He promised that the state would make it easier to obtain unemployment insurance benefits by providing immediate eligibility, rather than the normal one-week delay. He said benefits also can be arranged on-line rather than in-person visits. The state also will waive in-person reports on efforts to get new work.
Health Director Nate Smith gave his customary praise to the governor, crediting him today for “actually reading” scientific information he’d been provided. He also said he expected more cases with scaled-up testing. “COVID-19 is an invisible storm and we’re at the beginning of this storm,” he said.
The governor praised Arkansans for being creative in helping others.
Responding to questions, Hutchinson said there had not been widespread community transmission and so he hadn’t recommended closure of bars and restaurants as some places have.
Noted: There appeared to be eight people in the front of the room and at least that many looking on.