Governor Hutchinson had a double dose of bad news at his coronavirus briefing today.
One was about Hurricane Laura, expected to hit the Gulf coast tonight and arrive in Arkansas as a tropical storm on Thursday.
The other was a jump up to 649 new cases in one day, on only 4,378 tests, and 22 more deaths.
Hard to spin this one.
The daily COVID-19 count*
Arkansas added 649 news cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, for a total of 58,023. Hospitalizations fell by 7 to 435. Deaths rose by 21 to 732. Active cases: 5,390.
No accounting today of the top counties in terms of new cases.
Total tests in 24 hours: 4,372.
*The state is not including positive antigen tests (more than 10,000 have been performed) in its numbers. A has been raised by the White House on whether the hospitalization number is accurate. Other discrepancies in reporting, particularly related to testing and positive rates, have contributed to concerns about the reliability of state data.
HURRICANE: The governor spoke about the arrival of Hurricane Laura, expected to bring high winds, heavy rain and flooding to Arkansas Thursday. He said he’d declared an emergency and allocated $250,000 to prepare for likely flooding and other damages. He said winds up to 75 miles per hour and flash flooding are possible. The state is on an emergency footing in preparation.
He urged people to be careful, to look out for downed power lines and to not drive into high water.
A.J. Gary, who directs state emergency efforts, said the state’s emergency center had been activated.
The governor was asked about a potential need for emergency shelters, a problem in placing people close together during the pandemic. He said he wasn’t anticipating that need in Arkansas at the moment. Gary said using hotels would be a first choice should the need arise to house storm evacuees.
SCHOOLS: The state has acquired 70,000 plastic face shields (which the governor is holding above) that can be used by teachers in addition to masks.
Ivy Pfeffer, the deputy education commissioner, said there’d been positive reports on the start of school from around the state though there were “uncertainties and challenges.” She said 23 people were working at a call center to take questions. The questions have included a number about technology, she said.
The governor said a plan will be announced tomorrow about a central plan for reporting cases in school districts.
PRISONS: The Cummins and Ouachita River prisons were reported to currently have no active cases. Both have experienced mass outbreaks and deaths. The governor said he didn’t expect that to bring a change in the prisons’ no-visitor rule, because it would add a level of risk.
The Q&A session
Asked about disruptions in schools from COVID-19, Pfeffer said there’d been some. The KIPP Delta Elementary in Helena, for example, has had so many teachers in quarantine that it began the school year virtually. It will return to in-class instruction next week, she said. It had originally planned for a three-week all-virtual opening, but the state said that arose from miscommunication and that plan had not been approved by the Education Department.
Does the Department of Health agree with the CDC decision to change guidelines to no longer require testing of people exposed to someone who’d tested positive. Hutchinson said Arkansas intended to continue to go farther and continue to test people who’ve been exposed to someone, even if asymptomatic. There’s been broad criticism of the CDC change in policy, which some have seen as a political move encouraged by Donald Trump to hold down testing and thus depress the number of new cases.
SALT BOWL: Is the governor confident a highly attended high school football game can be conducted safely? “We learn from every event,” Hutchinson said. “If one doesn’t work, we have to be sure we do it better next time.” He said the Salt Bowl game between Benton and Bryant has a plan approved by the Health Department. Attendance will be smaller. “Social distancing should not be a problem,” he said. He said he’d be there and do his own monitoring.