Gov. Asa Hutchinson said today there’d been a second death in the state from coronavirus, in addition to the first reported this morning in Faulkner County, and he also announced the special legislative session will begin Thursday.
He said the needs were urgent to make budget adjustments. He expected a proclamation calling the session when the legislature has a consensus on the legislation.
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“We do not need to get together for a prolonged period of time for contentious debate,” he said. He wants to avoid public health risk by a short system.
He said again he’d been asked about a broader shutdown of business and shelter-in-place order. “I believe we’re approaching it in the right way,” he said, by saying very specifically who should be open and who should not be.
He said health screening, distancing and reduced gatherings remained vital.
In other remarks, he cautioned the state was still on the “lower end of the slope” as the incidence of the virus rises.
He reported some encouraging news on personal protective equipment. Enough has arrived or is in route to cover use for 60 days, including 24 pallets of supplies from the federal strategic stockpile, with almost 3,000 masks among them.
Health Director Nate Smith noted the 44-case daily rise in the virus but said positive results are on the rise. Of the 218 infected, 11 children, 73 adults 65 and older and the rest 19-64. Six people are on ventilators. UPDATE: By late afternoon, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 230.
Smith said the deaths were both in Central Arkansas — a 50-year-old person and the other “greater than age 80,” the case reported in Faulkner County of a Cleburne County resident. He released few details but said neither case appeared related to travel and one had an underlying medical condition.
Pike, Hempstead and Cross were added to the list of counties with cases, he said.
Smith urged people to consider honoring loved ones who die in ways that don’t increase the possibility of spread — small family gatherings, outside service or delayed services. He said it’s not just about families, but also funeral directors.
Quit smoking, Smith suggested. It’s an additional risk factor, he said.
Smith also said, in response to reports he’d heard, that it wasn’t appropriate for employers to require screening of employees who exhibit no symptoms.
He repeated his caution about side effects of chloroquine, a drug that Trump has touted for coronavirus prevention or treatment, though it’s not approved for those uses. It is particularly dangerous for children he said.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha made a plea for social distancing in remarks that seemed aimed at least in part on reports that younger people had particularly been more reluctant to observe the suggestions. At the same time, she urged the community to be mindful of people getting too isolated, particularly people unable to provide for themselves.
Does the governor think the economy will be ready to go again by Easter, as Donald Trump has indicated?
“I didn’t hear the president’s comments, but as has been referenced before, the president gives hope and he’s speaking in a hopeful way. I think we’d always like to see life back to normal. By Easter? Do I think that’s going to happen? … I still think we’re on the lower end of the upswing.” He said he still hoped to keep the economy moving despite the challenge.
Health Director Smith, pressed repeatedly, finally allowed that he thought Easter was “early” for a return to more normal business, but he defended Arkansas’s resistance to broader measures. The virus arrived here late, the concentration of cases hasn’t been as high and it’s a rural state.
What about social distancing for the 135-member legislature?
Hutchinson said the legislature must meet at the Capitol but would endeavor to maintain social distancing and observe other recommendations to the extent possible.