Gov. Asa Hutchinson emphasized today, in the face of a continuing rise in new coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations, that emergency order on coronavirus allows the state to override any local restrictions on “commerce or travel” stricter than those imposed by the state.
CORRECTION: I wrote incorrectly originally that he’d changed that order to toughen it. He didn’t change it. He merely emphasized in his remarks about extending the order for
45 60 days, a paragraph in the original order that overrides local actions on health regulation. Here’s the latest iteration of the order.
This allows the Health Director, he emphasized, to control quarantine, isolation and other restrictions. His mention was intended as a message to the movement by cities to impose mask requirements. Fayetteville and Pine Bluff have voted these measures. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said yesterday he was preparing an executive order on wearing masks in public places where social distance couldn’t be maintained.
Hutchinson said it was important that Arkansas move forward together “as a state.” He’d said yesterday he opposed the Fayetteville ordinance and a “hodge-podge” of local restrictions.
He and a health department spokesman again talked today of the importance of wearing masks and how important they are in preventing the spread of infection particularly by people who are not sick.
But they are not willing to require it. The huge number of Arkansans ignoring the advice likely will continue to do so.
Imagine: The governor has found it within his power to strip people of constitutional rights in suing businesses for damage they cause, but thinks it’s a governmental overreach to require people to wear face masks that might protect others from disease.
The public health emergency that was to expire June 19 was extended for 45 days, as the governor had said earlier he’d planned to do. But he chose to use the renewal today to emphasize the section that says the Health Department may require isolation and quarantine as necessary, but also prevent local restrictions on commerce or travel stricter than state guidelines. Masks are suggested, but not required by the state.
Hutchinson said he planned no specific action against cities that have acted on mask rules. The local rule is simply pre-empted by the state policy, he said. He seemed to characterize the action in several places more as encouragement by mayors to wear masks. Not in Fayetteville, where the Council adopted a mandate. And Mayor Scott seemed ready to move more forcefully, they he said he’d do so in a way not to restrict commerce.
The governor was asked about a coalition underway to coordinate COVID-19 respone. He said he hadn’t seen it. But he reiterated local governments “can’t be passing ordinances more restrictive.”
Matthew Petty who led the Fayetteville Council’s mask vote, told me later:
A lot of other cities are considering programs, with or without mask requirements. Personally, I have a conviction that we need a working group of cities and counties to share emerging best practices and avoid the hodgepodge legislation the Governor is concerned about. I take that concern of the Governor’s seriously and I hope Fayetteville, Rogers, Little Rock, Fort Smith, and other cities that are considering safety and awareness campaigns will meet together to learn from one another and to coordinate with the state.
Law enforcement in Little Rock
The governor also announced he had ended his unified command order that put the State Police in charge of law enforcement in Little Rock following violence during George Floyd demonstrations at the Capitol May 30.
He said the situation had calmed sufficiently that he could end the emergency declaration on law enforcement in Little Rock.
Daily coronavirus count
The number of new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours rose 322 from 13,606 to 13,928. Deaths rose by 11 to 208 (10 of them 65 and older). Hospitalizations rose by nine to 226.
Leading counties: Washington County, 46; Benton County, 33; Pulaski County, 23. Hutchinson, who spoke in Fort Smith today, said
Active cases are holding around 4,500, as they have for several days.
He said seven-day rolling averages in every region of the state has dropped in the last few days, though he also said that doesn’t predict the future.
Hospital capacity is a concern, he said. The capacity is sufficient statewide, but he said regional numbers needed to be watched “very carefully.” He said, despote the Johns Hopkins report earlier today, that the positivity rate on testing is good compared against a 10 percent level cited as a trouble point by some.
On other topics during a Q&A session:
KANSAS QUARANTINE: The governor said the Kansas order to quarantine visitors from Arkansas because of rising COVID-19 experience was an “aberration” of what other states are doing and he wasn’t notified in advance.
TRUMP RALLY: He said he won’t attend the Donald Trump rally in Tulsa Saturday. He said he anticipated many Arkansans will attend. “That’s great,” he said. He said if he went he’d wear a mask and keep sufficient distance from those not wearing masks. Those who go and find unsafe conditions should take a test when they get back, he said.
PUBLIC SCHOOL: The intent is to “have as normal a school year as possible,” but flexibility will be important. In other words, the shape of school — in class, at home — remains a work in progress.
FACE MASKS: He was asked about Benton County Republican JP Marilyn Chiocco’s statement at a GOP meeting that compared wearing a face mask to wearing a burka. She said it was a symbol of silencing people. “We are in the middle of a coup,” she said, in seeming to say talk of alternative means of voting in the fall because of an expected rise in COVID-19 was a plot. The governor said he hadn’t seen the video but it represented that “a lot of people have different views on masks.” He said we “need to preach it’s a public health issue, not a political issue.” When a Republican governor won’t strongly refute such nonsense and call a nut a nut, of course, it only encourages those who DO treat masks as a political issue.