UPDATE: The Arkansas coronavirus count has risen to 165 in 29 counties and officials are concerned about the state’s ability to meet needs for medical supplies and equipment.
Union and Woodruff counties are new today
Dr. Nate Smith, the health director, said 19 people have been hospitalized. He also 44 nursing home workers and residents have tested positive, with most from Briarwood in Little Rock, with 35 residents and six staff members. He said the state didn’t have a good idea of the source of the virus that hit three nursing homes. One case was recognized in a patient hospitalized for another reason and the hospital wasn’t the source.
The Briarwood home had a news briefing in the afternoon. Dr. Bushra Shah, medical director, said the home was working diligently to prevent spread of the infection and that the home was staffed in compliance with the law. She said the staff was dedicated and efficient. The home also welcomed applications from workers to increase staffing.
Shah explained that people who tested positive are in private rooms and in one area as more and more are testing positive. Staff is wearing protective gear and going “line by line” by Health Department guidelines. Shah said the home had 88 residents. All were tested and a few remain to be completed. More have been tested negative than positive, she said, including her. Shah said guidelines wouldn’t allow her to answer the question about when the nursing knew a patient had come back from a hospital who tested positive.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson noted that the rise in cases reported today correlates with an increase in testing.
Hutchinson brought Commerce Secretary Mike Preston to today’s briefing. He talked about stress on the new on-line system for unemployment claims. He said bottlenecks were linked to the federal system and he apologized for a lack of 24-hour access. That is to be changed and the telephone hotline is going to be ramped up. He again urged people not to go in person to offices, where workers are processing claims. Call the hotline or go on-line, he said.
The governor said 8,000 to 10,000 have filed unemployment claims so far. The number probably would be higher if the system was working the way it should. There are still glitches, in other words. He said it exceeds anything in his lifetime. “Our system wasn’t designed for this. We are trying to upgrade our system.” He said he’ll ask the legislature to spend rainy day money to properly handle those claims.
Preston said the small business loan program was up and ready to go. He said the state has received 300 inquiries so far.
The biggest news seems to be the shifting of the burden for gear purchases to the state by the Trump administration.
Feds are asking the states to handle procurement for protective equipment. After the state exhausts the supply it has procured from federal strategic stores (only about 25 percent of the amount requested), “it is on its own,” the governor said. And he said the supply is not sufficient domestically and the state is scrambling to find sources for use of the $30 million it has provided to buy such goods. And it is competing with the world. Hutchinson said he appreciated all offers for help, but the state must buy in bulk quantities.
With demand up, the price goes up, Hutchinson said in response to a question about New York’s offer to pay a premium for critical supplies. But should the state be in charge, as Donald Trump has insisted? “I advocated for the administration to utilize their defense authority to manage the supply chain,” Hutchinson said, but it hasn’t done so. “It’s a matter of production, but it’s also a matter of priorities.” He said that puts a burden on a manufacturer on where to send supplies. He said he’d asked the CDC to work in setting priorities.
“We don’t mind taking responsibility,” he added. Pressed, he said it wasn’t the time for the state to say what the federal government should or shouldn’t be doing. As long as the federal government doesn’t invoke the defense procurement act, “we’re up to our own devices.” He said the small hospitals can’t do it on their own and that’s why the state has stepped in. “I’m having to deal with the real world and the circumstances we find ourselves in. I don’t know everything the White House knows.” But he also went on to acknowledge the problems, for example, of a private business to switch to a new product line to cover a shortage. Arkansas has limited capacity to do that.
UAMS will begin processing tests tomorrow, Chancellor Cam Patterson said. This should lead to higher positive tests. He warned about bogus tests, medication and supplies. He said people should be wary of things too good to be true, particularly from those preying on the disadvantaged. “We don’t know how high this wave will crest and how long it takes to pass. There are many among us who are disadvantaged and responding to this.”
Smith acknowledged the frustration at those who need tests but haven’t received them. He said the state would continue to focus on the highest priority cases. Patterson encouraged people, again, to be screened first before deciding if a test is necessary.
Asked about the eviction of people behind in rent, Hutchinson said businesses were being reasonable. He said he didn’t see an order from the state unless it became a serious problem.
Hutchinson said he was still reluctant to broaden a work shutdown. He said he’d prefer to continue to encourage all to take steps to reduce spread of the virus.
Nate Smith said he received information in the first week of January from the CDC about a virus that didn’t have a name and was thought to have limited human-to-human transmission. He said communications from the CDC had been good.
Smith said homemade surgical masks are mostly useful to prevent spreading of droplets from people infected with the virus. And larger cloth masks might be useful to cover the N-95 respirators that protect medical providers.
The governor continued to encourage people to get outside. “We can’t just isolate ourselves in our home for this long a period of time. But when you get out, follow the social distancing.”
The daily briefings have a growing audience. About 5,000 tuned in to today’s live report on YouTube.
The governor signed off by wishing happy birthday to his 3-year-old grandson, Pablo.
Today’s statistical update: