SUCCESS: Governor says chart demonstrates strategy is working, with virus cases falling below earlier higher projections.

Today’s coronavirus briefing:  Two more deaths, to a total of 12, with the case count at 643 in 58 counties, against 584 yesterday, with a rise in hospitalization from 56 to 66, 23 on ventilators.

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Of the two deaths, one was over 65 and one under. One was a nursing home resident.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson opened by defending against criticism that the state hadn’t gone far enough in restricting movement. He said the targeted measures Arkansas had taken were actually more stringent than some other states.

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He continued to assert that the strategy is working because the state had projected a greater number of cases than have been experienced — 400 less today. But Arkansas testing has lagged behind many states, a factor that might affect the reported number of positive tests.

The strategy “has proven to be successful” in bending the upward curve.

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He objected to Arkansas being identified as one of five without a stay-at-home order. He said it was unfair because the “state had been doing a great deal and having some success.” Some states that have stay-at-home orders are “an illusion,” he said. A true order means no one goes out. He listed several businesses still allowed to work in other states, such as grocery stores and washaterias in California. Despite the order in California, he said, “millions go to work every morning.”

He said a stay-at-home order would still have 700,000 Arkansans going to work in essential businesses. “Are you accomplishing anything by doing that order?” He said he evaluates every day if enough is being done, and if not, to add measures.

“If we need to do more we will. The test is are we having compliance with social distancing. Are people doing what they should do? Most people are doing extremely responsible actions. When we get a report that people are not, we take action to address that.”

The targeted response is both fairer and more effective, he said.

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Health Director Nate Smith said 91 healthcare workers have tested positive. He also defended state policy on sheltering in place. “In no state is everyone staying home.” He also said a key question was what the state was trying to accomplish. That is not trying to be like every other state. The objective is to flatten the growth curve in the virus. “Our rate of growth has, at least recently, flattened out.” The growth in cases is “at least as good as any other state,” he said. He said the jury was still out on whether stay-home orders work. But he said there’s always an option to do more. He repeated what he’d told Leslie Newell Peacock that sustaining a long stay-home order is also a consideration.

Before the news conference, the noise had been increasing about calls for a stricter shut-down of activities in Arkansas, which by most measures isn’t taking the crisis as seriously as many other states.

The Arkansas Democratic Party added its voice to those calling for stricter measures.

Arkansas is one of just five states that has yet to implement some form of a shelter-in-place order. The other states are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. Arkansas is failing to follow the general consensus of public health professionals across the country.
“We need to act decisively now, so that we can minimize the duration and long-term impact of this virus,” said state Rep. Denise Garner. “While our efforts so far have made some difference and have been well intentioned, it’s clear that far too many people are disregarding guidance to stay home and avoid crowds. Arkansas needs to focus on shutting down all but essential activities, providing food and economic support to people for the duration of the crisis, and then on re-building and re-starting our economy. With each day we delay, we are making our own crisis worse.”
Rep. Garner is a retired Oncology nurse, representing House District 84 in Fayetteville and Washington County. Her husband is a frontline doctor in Washington County. She has two sons, one of which is facing the shutdown of their restaurant during the crisis, the other is a frontline doctor in Memphis, TN.
The governor was not moved.
Also today:
1) Hutchinson defended safety measures for state prisoners to keep them safe. Wendy Kelly, the Correction director, spoke about visitation limits; lowered telephone communication changes; waiver of probation fees; prison industries making cloth masks for use by inmates and staff. She said no inmate has tested positive. One staff member who worked outside the units has tested positive. “We feel very blessed at this time.”
2) He said there was already a “practical” moratorium on evictions because courts aren’t open to complete civil procedures. He said he’d talked with many landlords who indicated they were being flexible. “When I see a need for it, we will do it.” But now he said it appeared landlords were making “good accommodations” for tenants.
3) The governor said a broader stay-home order would mean the closure of Dillard’s, sporting goods stores, clothing stores, and other retailers. He said many of these are working at dramatically reduced levels and taking precautions. Confusion would result from a broader order, he said. He also said it would mean a jump of another 100,000 unemployed.