The New York Times is keeping track of what restrictions on movement states are imposing to stem the spread of the new coronavirus that has killed 35,114 globally*, 2,572 Americans and 6 Arkansans, and reported Sunday that Arkansas is one of only 10 states that has not asked residents to either stay at home or shelter in place.
Arkansas has put a limit on social gatherings of more than 10, closed businesses where people are commonly close together (bars, restaurants, salons, etc.), and officials have recommended that folks stay at home. The rest of the U.S., including Puerto Rico and the Navajo Nation, have issued stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders either statewide or in certain cities and counties.
This morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIH expert who has been the voice of reason on President Trump’s task force, said on CNN that anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die of COVID-19 based on disease models, but acknowledged that was one of several estimates.
So is there a specific number that could trigger a mandate in Arkansans to stay at home? No, Dr. Nate Smith, the state secretary of health and head of the Arkansas Department of Health, said at Sunday’s press conference.
“We have to look at a lot of different things,” Smith said. “Whatever we do, we need to be able to sustain it for as long as we can.” People may not put up with staying at home for the long haul.
Smith also noted that in some localities that have shelter-in-place directives, infection continues to spread. “In theory, it seems like it ought to help,” he said, but the growth rates at some places are greater than Arkansas’s. “I would like to see some evidence that that strategy does more good than harm.”
The Louisiana governor issued a stay-at-home order March 23 when cases hit 800, but the other states surrounding Arkansas have made such mandates only for cities and counties. (In Mississippi, only Oxford is sheltering in place.) Asked about the risk of spread from Louisiana, Smith said today that the cluster of infections are in New Orleans and that northern Louisiana looks much like Arkansas in its COVID-19 reports.
With the inability to do widespread testing thanks to a lack of chemicals or swabs or whatever, the state is hard pressed to have an exact picture of what is going on, which would help officials make decisions on how to protect the public. The government has invoked the Defense Production Act to require manufacture of ventilators, but not reagents and things needed for widespread testing. As Governor Hutchinson said (and the blog reported) Sunday at the COVID-19 briefing, “The federal government is a good partner … but they’ve made it very clear that it is up to the states to do their own procurement.” He was glad, he said, that the act will increase the number of ventilators, “which we know we’re going to need.”
*This corrects an earlier typo. Numbers are from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.