Governor Hutchinson opened his COVID-19 briefing today with a happy spin to offset the subsequent announcement of another big jump in cases and a record day for deaths.
He touted a drop in the unemployment rate, barely mentioning that it came at the cost of thousands of jobs because people have stopped seeking work and are no longer counted among the job force.
The daily COVID-19 count
Arkansas reported 887 new cases of coronavirus today, for a total of 55,652. Hospitalizations rose by 10 to 509, with 120 on ventilators. Deaths rose by 22 (the biggest one-day total so far, with 11 from nursing homes and seven of those from one home), to 663. Active cases: 5,854.
The leading counties with new cases in the last 24 hours: Pulaski, 80; Washington, 57; Benton, 47; Sebastian, 38; Pope, 33; Stone, 30; Faulkner, 29; Lonoke, 25; Craighead, 24; Crawford, 23; Crittenden, 22; Sevier, 21, and Garland, Independence and Poinsett with 20.
Tests in the last 24 hours: 6,396.
In explaining the big jump in cases, Hutchinson said it was clear there had been some clusters of cases that resulted from “routine activity of life,” neighborhood get-togethers and the like. He said, “It’s not smart. It leads to cases. It leads to death.” He added, “We’re not back to normal. There’s more work to be done.”
He said the state had completed testing of all prison inmates and staff. 14,650 inmates were tested, with 5,120 testing positive, a 35 percent positivity rate, though it has been much lower in recent days. 4,728 staff members were tested, with 378 positive, about 8 percent. The prison population has been reduced by 10 percent through early releases and a reduction in the number of prisoners sent to the system.
Health Director Jose Romero said the continuing deaths in nursing homes illustrated the need for restrictions on visitation.
Romero said the Health Department will issue letters notifying athletes of the end of quarantine periods, but said the students may not be allowed to return to play without authorization from a family physician.
Medical marijuana cards that were extended through Sept. 30 won’t be extended again. People need to make plans to renew applications. Telemedicine will still be allowed.
Fraudulent callers claiming to be contact tracers are asking for bank and credit card numbers. Contact tracers won’t ask for that information. There’s a helpline should questions arise about the legitimacy of such calls. There have also been people claiming to be health inspectors seeking a fee from businesses to do a health department inspection. The department doesn’t charge a fee and inspectors are supposed to have state credentials.
The Q&A session
The governor was asked about students who still don’t have computers or computer access. The governor said money had been provided for hotspots. In some places, however, such as Little Rock, they haven’t arrived yet. And other equipment is also lacking. He said the state was doing all it could.
The governor said the best opportunity for equity was to have students in classrooms.
The governor was also pressed on his earlier remarks that he’d hoped the rate would come down for the opening of school, but it jumped up today. “One day doesn’t tell the story,” he said.
He was asked a followup by his first questioner, on the equipment issue, “How can you say you are providing safety and equity when people are dying?” He responded that he’d already answered the question and moved to another questioner.
He said some steps could be taken to further protect teachers with great health needs, such as the erection of a plastic screen. He said the districts should work with teachers and many had.
He was asked about Arkansas’s plans on accommodating people leaving the Gulf coast because of forecast hurricanes. He said he hoped northern Louisiana and Mississippi could accommodate those people. Otherwise, he hopes visitors to the state will follow health mandates. But he said the state will “do what is necessary.”
Hutchinson insisted Arkansas was improving in evaluations by the White House coronavirus task force, which haw deemed Arkansas a “red zone” state. He said he hoped the state will move out of the “red area, hopefully next week.” He also insisted the state had pressed for compliance by businesses, which he contended was as effective as shutting businesses down.
Is Arkansas in the red zone today? It depends on who’s doing the ranking, Hutchinson said. He stuck with the criteria issued yesterday, which he acknowledged was different (far looser) than White House standards.
Eviction relief? He continues to say there are some charity sources for rental assistance. “That’s what we see as the opportunity for those who are struggling.” He said he’d continue to “monitor” the situation.
More spinning and grinning.