Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced today the rise of coronavirus cases to 280 at last count, plus two more counties, to 40. Several hours later, the number jumped to 301.
He said acceleration of the licensing process had produced additions to the numbers of both doctors, about 100, and nurses, about 300, in the state.
He emphasized again the need for the public to abide by guidance from the Department of Health, particularly social gatherings of fewer than 10 people. “There have been some exceptions to that,” he said.
He said, apparently because of violation of this, a directive will be issued on what is now merely guidance for indoor gatherings. He said the specifics would be available Thursday.
The governor said he had signed the proclamation to convene the special legislative session at 1 p.m. Thursday. He’s talked about using surplus and perhaps a single bill to cut spending across all agencies of government to cope with a projected $353 million shortage in the last three months of the year ending June 30 from the damaged economy and a delay in state income tax filings.
The proclamation creates a COVID-19 rainy day fund and transfers surplus there. It will be managed by the governor. The enabling legislation is on file, but not fully fleshed out at the end of the workday.
It’s not easy to make the cuts. There are special needs and special pleaders all across the government, some with more pressing needs than others. I wrote yesterday about education. Health and emergency services are obvious.
The General Assembly meeting will be unusual. The Jack Stephens Center at UA Little Rock will be used for the House of Representatives to have ample room for distance between members and staff. The Senate is going to space out and limit press attendance and has discussed a rule change to allow proxy voting.
No bills have been filed.
Hutchinson said there will be budget constraints, including a reduction in travel. He said the state’s obligation on education and Medicaid will come first. He said the legislation will give the executive branch the ability to manage the budget.
Hutchinson said 9,000 unemployment claims were filed last week and 8,000 more this week. He urged people to be patient. The volume is unprecedented, he said. “We are processing him as quickly as we can.” He acknowledged 25-minute wait times for call-in claims.
Health Director Nate Smith gave his daily statistical breakdown, with 13 cases in children 18 and under, 173 people aged 19 to 64 and 94 in people over 64. Twelve people have been hospitalized; four patients are on ventilators; 41 are in nursing homes; 11 have been deemed to be recovered.
Smith, in addition to mentioning indoor gatherings, urged people to keep their distance outdoors and in stores were people must go. “We don’t have to be crowded together just because we’re in a public space.” He also touched on churches. His church is ministering by video and many others are, he said.
Arkansas Surgeon General Gregory Bledsoe has been getting national attention for his Twitter thread comparing the rising virus toll to a tsunami. I mentioned it with a link this morning in an item on Great Passion Play forging ahead with a play and sunrise service on Easter weekend.
Hospital needs are ample currently, the governor said. But plans are underway about creating additional capacity.