Gov. Asa Hutchinson accompanied an announcement of a continuing rise in COVID-19 cases today with news that visitation to long-term care facilities will be allowed to resume July 1. He again dodged questions on inhumane conditions in Cummins and said he opposed the Fayetteville mask ordinance but didn’t plan to do anything about it just yet.
Hutchinson said the nursing home association and Health Department had developed guidelines that would allow visitation. This covers nursing homes, assisted living facilities and state residential care facilities.
The July 1 opening date is dependent on facilities meeting criteria, including testing of all residents.
An outline of what’s envisioned:
Daily coronavirus count
The number of new cases rose 415 in the last 24 hours from 13,191 to 13,606. Deaths increased by nine to 197. Hospitalizations increased by three, to 217.
7,514 tests were completed in 24 hours. There are more than 4,400 active cases. The governor seemed to take heart from the rolling average positivity rate running steadily at 6 percent or so.
Top counties in daily increases: Washington, 90; Benton, 81; Lee, 24; Pulaski, 21.
The major trend lines are still on the increase. “Hopefully that’s flattening out soon,” the governor said.
Rachel Bunch of the nursing home association said it was expected that all homes won’t meet the guidelines immediately, but all were working toward that goal She said visitation procedures will change in the homes. Barber and beauty shops will be able to reopen.
About a third of nursing homes still have active cases and the testing rate so far for residents is less than 1 percent. This suggests, a state official said, the preventive measures are working.
Hutchinson defended the reopening based on a low positive test rate. And he said safety protocols are in place that can guard against outside infections, even though many people who test positive are asymptomatic.
Health Director Nate Smith said visitors will wear masks, generally meet outside rooms and be encouraged to maintain distance. The guidelines discourage transmission even when asymptomatic people come in. Specific guidelines should be issued sometime today.
Hutchinson was asked about Fayetteville’s mandatory mask ordinance. He doesn’t support it.
“I understand where their heart is. I would prefer cities not to take that step.” He said the ordinance conflicts with his executive order. Would he take any action? Any citizen could if “aggrieved,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t anticipate state action at this time.” If it becomes more of a problem across the state, “we’ll re-examine that.:” He said he didn’t want a “hodgepodge” of different types of ordinances
In response to another question about a desire for local ordinances, he said he didn’t want “50 different ordinances” in Arkansas about masks and other measures. He said the existing state guidelines were strong in recommending mask-wearing. “I want everyone to understand the importance of it.” Tens of thousands demonstrably don’t.
Hutchinson repeated, as he had told me, that his comment was not sought for the New Yorker article with heavy criticism of conditions at the prison. He said the magazine submitted 60 questions to the Correction Department that were answered. He contended the article had inaccurate information and all the state responses weren’t used.
He said the article was intended to make the state prison look likes something out of the 1960s.
As with his response to me earlier, he cited no specific inaccuracy. But he said the state was working to keep inmates safe.
Pressed by a reporter later for inaccuracies, the governor said he’d show the department’s 60 responses. He again cited no specific. He said it was “not a complete story about what’s happening in our prison system.”
We have sought the list from the Department of Correction and have asked IT about inaccuracies in the article.
UPDATE: Here are the 60 questions and Arkansas answers. Some information in QUESTIONS were disputed. So? Did inaccurate info appear in ARTICLE? Still awaiting response to that question.