Today’s streaming update from the state Capitol was a technical mess, but in between the crashes, we got the following bottom lines: Cases are up, deaths are up, school will go on, sports will go on, school achievement testing will go on. Dr. Jose Romero, the acting Secretary of Health, has been named the permanent secretary.
Governor Hutchinson reported the following stats:
New cases: 912. Of those, 754 are in community, 158 in correctional facilities, including new cases at the Delta unit of the Department of Corrections in Chicot County. That brings the cumulative total to 46,293
Deaths: 18 more, bringing the toll to 508. There are 516 people hospitalized with virus.
12 counties have 20 or more cases:
Ashley and Crittenden, 21 each.
The state’s positivity rate is 10 percent. The feed broke up here; not sure if that is cumulative or current.
— The health department has put up guidelines for school-sponsored band and choir.
— The state will test all inmates at the DOC’s 19 prison facilities, and that staff will be assisted by 10 National Guardsmen. Testing is complete at nine facilities. The remaining 10 will be tested by the end of August.
— The education department has put a call center online for parents and teachers will questions about school during the pandemic. The number, 833-353-6050 can be called 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.
In response to questions, the governor said he and Secretary of Education Johnny Key will address at Friday’s update the impact of school cases on teacher workdays and quarantine, though the governor said pay issues will be left up to districts. Key also said that the Arkansas Education Association’s request that school testing be suspended is not something he can do: It’s up to the feds, he said, and a waiver is not being considered. Arkansas would lose federal funds if it unilaterally waived testing requirements for schools. Lindsey Millar will have more on school news from the press conference in an upcoming post.
He also said a sports advisory council headed by Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe would advise him for the next 90 days on mitigation of virus spread. He noted that next week contact football drills will begin, which will be “a little bit more challenging.” He also said that the return of sports should not be a signal that the pandemic is over and people can let down their guard.
Hutchinson also said he had been approached by the seven-state purchasing consortium that is working to buy antigen testing kits, but has not made a decision on whether to join it.
Asked if he had heard that hospitals may be fudging COVID-19 patient numbers to access more funding, the governor said no. The claim is a rumor started several months ago, apparently by a member of the legislature, the Times was told.
Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe said an advisory group on school sports is meeting on how to mitigate the risk of virus spread. Hutchinson said it will report to him for 90 days.