Governor Hutchinson said today he’ll be ending his daily coronavirus update with a report Friday from Mena.

Afterwards, there will be weekly updates or “as needed.” The first weekly briefing will be on Tuesday. He said the briefings have been a useful tool, but the Health Department website has the information readily accessible.

He said the briefings have addressed many important issues and an information “infrastructure” had been built. He didn’t mention that the briefings sometimes ranged farther afield to political questions that the governor wasn’t always wholly pleased to hear. Today, for example, he was asked several times about Donald Trump’s admission that he knew early about dangers of the virus and intentionally downplayed it. Hutchinson defended Trump, as he usually does.

The daily COVID-19 count

Advertisement

Arkansas added 398 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, for a total of 66,804. Hospitalizations dropped by 19 to 392. Deaths rose by 12 to 940. Active cases: 5,196.

The top counties for new cases in the last 24 hours: Pulaski, 72; Washington, 37; Jefferson, 33, and Craighead with more than 20.

Advertisement

PCR tests (on which the official state tally is based) in the last 24 hours: 4,900

Antigen tests (quicker and reliable as to positive findings, but not included in the state total) in the last 24 hours: 70 positive in 430 tests.

The governor said low case counts in the last few days were encouraging. It might indicate people are taking health practices seriously and contact tracing and testing have been strong. “I still would like to see the numbers decline more obviously.”

Other topics and Q&A

Advertisement

Deputy Education Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer said two more school districts have had to alter in-person schooling because of virus issues — Fordyce has a third-grade class working virtually this week and Tuckerman High School is going to remote learning through Sept. 21.

Hutchinson was asked about the failure of the Senate to approve reduced COVID relief legislation. And he was asked whether he was concerned that Donald Trump had intentionally downplayed the virus risk.

He said he’d always been skeptical a deal could be reached before the Nov. 3 election. He said the state budget was in good shape, with an unallocated surplus and good tax revenue stream. The most urgent need, he said, is a time extension for the expenditure of already available federal money.

Trump’s interviews with Bob Woodward? “I don’t think anybody is surprised by the fact that he tried to encourage the economy. He tried to minimize some of this virus and its impact. That’s clear from many different public statements.”

But he said it was important to note the public was very well-informed. People like Dr. Anthony Fauci told the public about dangers (at least before Trump muzzled him.)

He said it was important for a leader to be honest, but also not to create panic. He said some early reporting covered topics — such as potential hospital demand — that proved inaccurate and emphasizing those things could have caused undue concern.

Was he ever told to play down the virus by Trump or Mike Pence? He said he had not been. “There’s never been any minimizing of it.” He said what Trump says was in “his unique style.”

A reporter complained about inconsistent reporting of cases by school districts. Health Director Jose Romero said the agency’s experience on communication with school districts had been good. The governor, too, said he believed the information was flowing in.

Has contact tracing improved? It had been marked in early days by difficulties in making contact with people. The Health Department said 600 tracers are working, so contact time is shrinking. And there’s been improvement in people supplying contact information.

Advertisement