Governor Hutchinson, doing his daily briefing from Conway, was pressed again on requiring face coverings, as many businesses and other states are doing, and again said he preferred to stick with education.
The governor of Alabama, Walmart and business groups have been among those announcing mask requirements or support for them.
Hutchinson said he gets it from all sides. “There’s a lot saying we need it. There’s a lot saying that it’s an infringement on freedom. There’s some saying it’s unenforceable, so why have it to begin with?”
But Hutchinson would only say, “It remains a tool we can implement of we need it.” He took Walmart’s decision to require masks for customers as a sign that education was making a mask rule “more acceptable.”
“As to whether we need a statewide mandate, that will continue to be evaluated. And if we do it, you’ll know about it.”
He demonstrated no immediate interest in allowing cities to mandate masks. He continues to insist that the model ordinance he’s allowed cities to adopt is a valuable tool. Businesses may use police to remove resisting customers, he said. But businesses already could use police to remove people doing objectionable things in stores. The model ordinance doesn’t provide a way to punish a business that won’t enforce a mask rule or social distancing (except bars, restaurants and others covered by specific state directives.)
The daily coronavirus count
Arkansas added 564 new cases (78 in prisons) of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, rising from 29,733 to 30,297. Deaths rose by four to 335. Hospitalizations rose by 13 to 458, with 94 on ventilators. Active cases stood at 6,439, about 1,100 of them in nursing homes or prisons.
The top counties for new cases in the last 24 hours: Pulaski, 78; Sebastian, 52; Washington, 46, and Benton, 38.
Tests completed in the last 24 hours: 5,146, less than the day before. He faulted delays in commercial labs. The state’s positivity rate remains above 10 percent over a seven-day average.
The number tops 1 percent of the state population, a number that should be a warning, not positive, Health Director Nate Smith said, because the disease is infectious and can spread. And, in a note to Trump and his defenders, he mentioned that most of those hospitalized while have persisten illnesses even if they recover from COVID-19.
The Health Department provided an update on the outbreak at the Conway Human Development Center in Conway: 87 residents and 18 staff members. There have been no deaths.
A reporter asked about Trump administration order to hospitals to bypass the CDC in reporting COVID cases. Hutchinson said he didn’t really understand all the reasons for the change. Health Director Nate Smith said he hoped the CDC, for which he will shortly go to work, remains integral. But he said if it gets information out more quickly (one excuse offered by the Trump administration) he’s for it.
Hutchinson said it was a “natural reaction” for teachers and others to have concerns about reopening schools, as an AEA survey of 6,000 teachers indicated. But he used as a positive the fact that 75 percent of Conway families had decided to go back to the classroom. (How confident they are about that, he didn’t say.)
Hutchinson seemed resistant to a question about whether the state should bear costs for absences and substitute teachers if teachers get sick, given that the state is requiring everyone to go back to class.
The governor gave some exposure to Rep. French Hill, the 2nd District Republican, who faces Democratic challenger Joyce Elliott. She’s making an issue of the Trump administration’s poor showing on pandemic response and Hill’s support for Trump.