As I reported yesterday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has asserted the power to override local elected officials on commerce by, for example, ordering the closure of bars and restaurants, or at least in-restaurant service, to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. of Little Rock has said he’s contemplated limits on service, but is barred from ordering action by the governor.

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I sent questions to the governor yesterday about this. I asked:

  1. The specific legal authority to declare an override of city and county measures on such matters as restaurant and bar closing.
  2. How does he respond specifically to calls from people, such as Rep. Denise Garner and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, who’ve said it’s time to end all but essential services to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Here’s the totality of the response from Katie Beck, his communications director:

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“I continue to listen to my public health team and I am speaking regularly to Mayor Frank Scott.  He has been a good partner as we go through this national emergency.  Every state and community should be guided by the medical facts and testing.  As we have further announcements on this topic, we will keep you informed.”

Many medical authorities believe broad shutdowns are good public health practice. Some communities might like to go farther than the governor has gone. Testing has been so slight in Arkansas, it’s impossible today to say a relatively low number of cases is indicative of the extent of the virus here. Lockdowns in China and South Korea have dramatically slowed the growth in the incidence of coronavirus.

Many venues in Little Rock have moved to takeout or delivery service without being ordered. The decline in normal activity, from closures and move of work to home, is noticeable downtown, I can testify from a brief visit yesterday.

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