Demonstrations against police brutality intervened in Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily briefing on coronavirus.
He opened remarks by addressing two days of demonstrations across Arkansas.
He gave what sounded like a prepared statement on events, beginning with describing George Floyd’s “senseless” death at the hands of police in Minneapolis “while begging for his life, while saying I can’t breathe.”
He said this had rightfully prompted protests, fear and outrage. He mentioned the many demonstrations across Arkansas this weekend but didn’t single out those places where police resorted to force to break up demonstrations (Conway and Little Rock).
“Tonight I expect more,” he said. He said he respected and supported peaceful protests. “Outrage is understandable,” he said.
But he emphasized, “Violence to persons and destruction of property is not acceptable and counter to the message protesters are trying to convey, which is peace, which is unity, which is reform of the criminal justice system.”
He said violence and destruction “will not be tolerated.” He said he’d address this topic further at a news conference scheduled at his office in Little Rock at 4 p.m. today. It also will be streamed on YouTube.
In a Q&A session, he was asked about a call between Donald Trump and governors today in which Trump was quoted as calling governors weak and demanding that they crackdown on protests and bring “retribution” to participants.
Hutchinson said, “State Police have done a very good job at protecting the right of protest, but whenever it shifts into the destruction of property they’ve taken quick action. Compared to around the country we’ve done well. But we want to do the best job every day.”
He said he had participated in the call with the president. He blandly characterized Trump’s remarks. “He’s looking at the national picture and saying are we doing all we can to control violence and destruction of property. I’m confident in Arkansas we are doing that with exactly the right protective measures and we’ll continue to do that.”
He said he wanted coordinated law enforcement that “respects the right of protest and respects property.” He added, “We are committed to that tonight and tomorrow night.”
The daily coronavirus count
He then turned to coronavirus. He held the briefing in Rogers, the epicenter for a recent outbreak of cases, and it followed a string of days with 200-plus new cases in the state.
The number of new cases since yesterday was put at 190, for a total of 7,443. Hospitalizations rose by six, to 121, a new high. Deaths held steady at 133.
Hutchinson said there’d been 3,798 tests in 24 hours, with a positive rate at 6 percent, above the state average of around 5 percent.
He didn’t express special concern about the recent rise in cases.
He did note the recent big outbreak in Northwest Arkansas after some in the region had urged a return to normalcy several weeks ago because of the low number of cases. He said the virus must be taken seriously as it rolls across the state.
He “applauded” the poultry industry, heavily clustered in Northwest Arkansas, for best health care practices. “They’re doing an extraordinary job. They are a model for our state and nation.” They also have been the source of some mass outbreaks, which Hutchinson didn’t mention. Health Director Nate Smith did recount the number of cases in that sector, but he also thanked the industry for trying to address it.
The Q&A session
Aren’t poultry plants a big source of the problem in Northwest Arkansas? It’s broader than that, Hutchinson said. It is a community spread, too, not simply the workplace. “We are looking at this holistically,” he said. People who work go home and engage in a variety of activities. He reiterated the work being done by the industry. He said they have cases there but they are doing “impressive” work trying to address it.
But weren’t good poultry industry practices in place before the surge in cases? Yes, Dr. Smith said, but people go home. Education that is “language and culturally” appropriate is needed to protect families and communities in good practices at home as well.
Hutchinson was asked about meetings with representatives of Latino and the Marshallese communities. He said there’d been discussions about finding ways to educate and encourage people to test. He said they’d talked through ways to meet concerns about costs, but he wasn’t specific about what might be done.
He repeated no data was supporting a connection between the current increase in cases and recent easing of many restrictions. He said he was still concentrated on “managing the crisis” — having normal activities and being safe.
He said the virus will remain a “threat” in the fall. However, he said, “We can’t be restricted forever.” We can hope managing the threat means at least doing as other Republicans have done and making it easier to cast a mail ballot rather than expose voters and elderly poll workers to a deadly virus.
He finally acknowledged today, when he again said workers can claim workers’ compensation if they get sick from an illness caused on the job, that this could be “hard to prove.” If that proved to be the case, he said he was committed to a change in the law to help such workers. He praised employers who’ve continued pay and benefits for workers who’ve become ill.