SOCIAL DISTANCING: At Little Rock board meeting. Brian Chilson

The Little Rock Board of Directors discussed the COVID-19 coronavirus and a proposed ordinance that would allow board members to participate in meetings on Tuesday. The board met at Robinson Center’s William Grant Still Ballroom to allow appropriate social distancing between board members, staff and the public.

As the meeting concluded, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott said that some decisions related to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Little Rock will be made in the next 48 hours that he predicted, “will not make people happy.” He mentioned lengthening the city curfew hours as a possibility.

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Director Dean Kumpuris, who also chairs the city’s COVID-19 Task Force, said he was heartened by the willingness of local health care providers to take collective action.

“It’s amazing that all the hospitals have come together and have voluntarily sent Mayor Scott a letter saying they’re limiting their services, they’re limiting their elective procedures, they’re limiting their clinics and often times letting people off to 1.) allow us to be ready when and if there is a real problem and 2.) to cut down the contact between sick people and the rest of the city.”

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The board also discussed a new ordinance that would allow members to participate in board meetings remotely via some sort of conferencing software like Skype or Zoom. Directors Joan Adcock and Doris Wright expressed skepticism about the ordinance. Adcock had several questions about the technology. Wright said she saw the potential for abuse. City Manager Bruce Moore suggested placing a clause that would only preserve the ordinance until Dec. 31, 2020. Adock said she wanted a shorter time frame. After Moore suggested May 31, Kumpuris said, “The [coronavirus] is not going to be over in 60 days. Let’s do 90 days. We don’t have a chance in 60 days.”

Scott told the board, “We are uncharted waters. We must utilize technology to ensure we continue to do the people’s business.”

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The board will again consider the ordinance at a special called meeting at 4 p.m. March 24, the normal time for its agenda meetings.

Directors Gene Fortson and Erma Hendrix were absent tonight.

During the public comment period, Geoffry Vickery* spoke against the city curfew that goes into effect at midnight tonight. He said his livelihood would be impacted by the curfew without identifying his job. He said it would hurt the people who own and work in late night clubs, taxi and rideshare drivers and said he didn’t believe the virus was as bad as the media had made it out to be.

Kumpuris, responding later, said, “I feel bad about people having these economic difficulties, but I feel worse about the situation where you have so many people sick but you have one ventilator left and you have three or four people who need to be on it and you have to make the decision who you’re going to put on the ventilator and who you’re not.”

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Brian Chilson
CITY BOARD: (from left) Vice Mayor BJ Wyrick, Mayor Frank Scott, Director Lance Hines and Director Doris Wright.

He reminded the board that unlike typical times of illness, the public shouldn’t go to the doctor or emergency room, but rather should do a screening online or over the phone.

“This is an unusual illness,” Kumpuris said. “If I get the illness, day 1, I’m not symptomatic till day 4 or 5. For the 24 hours or so before I get sick, I’m shedding virus. I’m contaminating everybody and I think I’m well and I’m out in the public doing things. If you’re young, you may go through the whole illness and never really know that you have anything other than a little cough or sneeze … It’s a new situation and everybody is in danger of getting it. … It’s going to be a sacrifice on everybody.”

Scott commended Director Capi Peck for making the decision to close her restaurant Trio’s except for takeout and delivery. Peck said it was the “best decision she’d ever made” even though she knew the economic ramifications. She said she felt like she’d had a 2,000-pound elephant sitting on her chest and “it just got up” after she made the decision yesterday. She said she hoped the state would move soon, as others have, to close restaurants except for take-out or delivery.

She said she and other Little Rock restaurateurs and members of the hospitality industry had been on a call earlier in the day with U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman and members of the congressional delegation. She said Cotton promised that a stimulus package would be approved by the Senate in 24-48 hours.

Director Lance Hines said all the feedback he’d received from constituents regarding the city curfew was that it wasn’t stringent enough. He said it should be earlier. He also encouraged the public to have frank conversations with their high school and college-aged children who think “they’re 10-feet tall and bulletproof” to get them to understand how the virus is transmitted and why they don’t need to be out on the town. He said he’d just had such a conversation with his college freshman daughter.

Vice-mayor BJ Wyrick said that self-isolation was painful. “I’ve spent more time with my husband in the last few days than I have in 48 years,” she quipped, earning laughs from her colleagues. “I’m hoping this ends quickly.”

*A previous version of this post misspelled Geoffry Vickery’s name.