In addition to ignoring local pleas to make their own school decisions, Governor Hutchinson has steadily been spinning Arkansas coronavirus numbers in a light more favorable than many health experts.


Doctors on the state payroll have aided him in the effort. Now the schools will suffer, as poultry workers already have.

This goes beyond the governor’s understating of positive test rates; his overestimates of our testing effort; his citing of 10 percent as a danger line for positive rates when other authorities put it at 5 percent, his long insistence to rely on the cumulative positive test rate, including early days of minimal testing, rather than the recent run of 10 percent-plus days; his refusal to talk about positive test rates on antigen tests (double digits).


New example: The new Arkansas Centers for Health Improvement mapping of community risks, by school district, from the pandemic. As I mentioned yesterday, it uses a rate of new cases far higher than national sources use to determine the highest danger risk of transmission of COVID-19.

People are taking notice, if many in the media and the governor and his doctors are not, as a couple of Tweets shown here illustrate.


Here’s how the Harvard group sets its color-coded risk levels (based on a one-week average).

Here’s how ACHI sets its top risk level.

Rates that indicate the highest level of risk ― a 14-day new case rate of 50 or more per 10,000 people ― are shown in red. 

But that’s not all. Governor Hutchinson and Education Secretary Johnny Key both wouldn’t guarantee yesterday that they’d approve a school district going all-virtual simply because they had a stratospheric (Arkansas-level) local rate of infection.


And there’s still more. The ACHI risk levels don’t include prison and nursing home cases. Never mind that employees in prisons and nursing homes circulate in the community, even if the prisoners and nursing home residents do not.

These are just some of the reasons why the governor’s daily briefings have become little more than spin-and-grin sessions. He’s determined to put people back to work, in football stadiums and in classrooms, damn the pandemic.

It’s not just the schools for which the governor is covering. There’s also the poultry industry, which he’s often said is setting a standard for the nation.

This popped up yesterday by Arkansas-based journalist Olivia Paschal:

By my lights, the “why” question is easy to answer if you’ve listened to the governor or Walmart-heir Stueart Walton at the spin-and-grin sessions. The business of Arkansas is business.

Or as Paschal’s article summarized:

There are ways to make plants safer — but they would likely require increased government oversight, significant investment on the part of poultry companies, and a decrease in production.

The governor and the business lobby (currently working to increase the sales tax to fatten the wallets of highway contractors) chose none of those options. They chose Door No. 4: An exemption for businesses from lawsuits over dangerous conditions.

An exemption from eviction for the pandemic-unemployed? Not on their lives.

All the grins in the world don’t cover how mean this state has been to the underclass.

UPDATE: I asked ACHI why its “red zone” rate was so much higher than that set by the White House, Harvard and others. I got this response:

ACHI provided tiered levels of risk for new COVID-19 cases in school districts across the state to enable risk assessments and trends to be available for parents, teachers, school superintendents and community leaders.

We selected the tiers from the StaySafeMN Minnesota Safe Learning Plan for 20-21 because Minnesota has a strong public health department, has developed a process for risk communication, and as a state is similar in size and rurality to Arkansas. Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year

Other models exist and were examined including Harvard, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Arizona, and the White House Task Force. Many, including the WHTF reported at the per 100,000 and obviously were designed for more densely populated urban areas. Use of the range of cases from Minnesota will enable more optimal trending of risk for Arkansas school districts.

Seems like a rate per 10,000 and per 100,000 are readily comparable mathematically, though I can understand why using the smaller ratio would be handier in lightly populated places.

I still don’t get the huge difference in rates.

Minnesota has 5.6 million people to our 3 million. Its risk warnings are pegged to case rate per county, not per school district.

Here’s the Minnesota response for schools based on those rates:

By those standards, a lot of Arkansas students would not be recommended to be in class next week. Searchable district map here.