Governor Hutchinson defended the state’s reaction to COVID-19 in light of information from a White House document that identified Arkansas as among 18 hot spot states for growth in cases and mentioned possible preventive measures, such as closing bars and gyms in certain areas.
He also didn’t seem too perturbed that some law officers might not enforce the mask mandate he issued yesterday
Hutchinson said Arkansas had opted to go in a different direction to “accomplish the same thing” as the White House coronavirus task force had suggested. Rather than close bars, he said the state had stepped up enforcement on bars. And he cited the mask mandate issued yesterday as a positive step. He continues to emphasized the need for people to get back to work.
He said the state would look at more restrictions if needed.
Health Director Nate Smith, who made his last appearance before heading to a job with the CDC, said the suggestions from the White House weren’t Arkansas specific, but aimed at the nation as a whole and the state was pursuing strategy tailored to Arkansas. He said the state’s tracing of cases still hadn’t linked a significant number of cases to places such as bars and gyms. The tracing has also been well short of the demand.
And about the developing law enforcement resistance to a mask mandate:
Hutchinson said he’d be talking later today with sheriffs in a session arranged by the sheriffs’ association. Several have said they won’t enforce the mask mandate. He said the mandate was important and necessary. He said he hoped law enforcement would use it to help educate. He noted that his directive prohibits arrest or jailing and provides a warning for a first offense before there’s a potential for a fine.
At the same time, he said local agencies set priorities for enforcement. “I defer to them on that, but it is an option they can utilize to educate and enforce and make us all stay healthy in our communities.”
He said he expected most Arkansans to respond to the mandate in any case.
He said he’d heard from legislators who don’t like the mask mandate. “I made a decision. I know it will be second-guessed. I know they’re likely to have hearings at which they discuss this. They can call witnesses and they can vet it out.” But he said there’s a lot of support in the legislature. That’s just the nature of different opinions, he said. He said he hadn’t thought through what his reaction would be if the legislature arranged a rump unofficial session to pass a resolution condemning a mandate, something that has been mentioned.
Altogether, the governor almost sounded like someone who saw the mandate as not having much more legal effect than his previous encouragement.
He also was pressed by reporters on school opening. He said all schools weren’t being held to the same standard and could be flexible. He said it was impossible to say there’d be no risk in going to school. But he said his best judgment today remained that school should reopen.
The daily coronavirus count
Arkansas recorded 648 new COVID-19 cases (39 in prisons) in the last 24 hours, for a total to date of 31,762. Deaths rose by 12 to 353. Hospitalizations declined by six to 464. (Note this is a net figure, derived by subtracting releases from new admissions.)
The top counties for new cases: Pulaski, 68; Washington, 44; Craighead, 32; Pope, 30; Benton, 29; Garland, 24; Sebastian, 22, and Saline, 21.
Tests completed in 24 hours: 5,861.
The governor announced today that Arkansas is now providing city-specific numbers on COVID-19, something Little Rock officials had pressed for. It’s compiled by Arkansas Center for Health Improvement on a per capita basis, with several smaller places with much higher rates than larger cities like Little Rock with more cases. Cities with fewer than 10 cases aren’t listed, to prevent identifying someone.
The governor was asked about difficulties reported by people seeking unemployment benefits. He said the pandemic unemployment claims had been slowed by checks for inaccurate information or potential fraud and he suggested those claims might account for many of the problems. “They just have to be patient,” he said. But he said the state didn’t want to lose money to fraud, so it is being careful on applications.
A class-action lawsuit against the pandemic assistance website designer is seeking damages for a security breach that exposed personal information for 30,000 applicants. The lawsuit detailed a case in which a claimant was a victim of identity theft,