Governor Hutchinson went virtual for his weekly briefing on COVID-19, a good idea given how the virus is galloping through the ranks of people who frequent the Capitol.

He’d promised some news in light of the sharp rise in new cases, hospitalizations and death rate. But he only delivered a pep talk, invoking the words of Revolutionary War figure John Paul Jones, “I have not yet begun to fight” is the governor’s response to those saying “we are losing the battle and that we just have to live with it.”

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He said times are tough, but “We have to be prepared to fight. I’m prepared to fight.”

Fighting seems to mean getting more people to wear face coverings and to keep social distance, but nothing by way of official state actions. He said the state was testing at record levels, medical treatment had improved and there was “more engagement across the board” on complying with healthy practices.

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He took pains to say while cases were up 100 today versus Monday last week, 1,000 more tests had been completed. (Isn’t that a 10 percent positive rate, roughly speaking?)

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The daily coronavirus count

New cases, confirmed by PCR tests in the last 24 hours: 651

New probable cases, from antigen tests: 301

Total new cases, 952 for a total to date of 107,679

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Hospitalizations: Up 27 to 676. A new record.

Deaths: From confirmed cases, up 24, to 1,857. Sixteen were from nursing homes.

Testing in 24 hours: PCR, 7,000; antigen, 1,795

Top counties for new cases in the last 24 hours: Pulaski, 146; Benton, 77; Washington, 72; Craighead, 66, and Saline, 40. Nine others e had 20 or more cases.

Other news and Q&A

Dr. Jose Romero, the state Health director, said state officials had spoken this week to a member of the team planning for vaccine distribution. This includes identifying places for cold storage of the vaccine.

He said given the rise in COVID cases among older people that it was worth considering whether it was appropriate to bring elderly people into family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Education Secretary Johnny Key said 17 schools are currently shifted to remote instruction, the smallest number in that posture to date. He reported on preparing schools for a pilot project to use rapid testing supplies the state had received.

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In questioning, Hutchinson was asked if restrictions would have to be reimposed on elective medical procedures if hospital demand from coronavirus rises. He said there was no plan at the moment and he did not want to restrict medical procedures. But he said planning continued to cope with a crisis and staffing remained a major concern. Romero said hospitals have transfer agreements if necessary.

Hutchinson again said renewed restrictions on business was “no solution.” He insisted following health guidelines was the solution and that restricting business would have economic consequences. “That is the approach that I take. That’s why I ask for the help of Arkansans.” He said the guidelines are enforced through education and the Health Department has a good marketing plan to encourage better compliance.

A Jonesboro reporter quoted a Northeast Arkansas mayor who said the governor hadn’t given cities tool to enforce the mask requirement and fines weren’t being assessed. Hutchinson said businesses were being fined by the state for failing to follow rules. And he said his directive DID allow fines of people for failure to wear masks, but only after a warning. “Our objective is not to arrest people; our objective is to encourage compliance. This is working. We can do better. There are always people who will say fooey.”

The reporter persisted with questions about the surge in cases in Northeast Arkansas and asked about steps by neighboring governors to enforce mandates in select problem areas. Hutchinson said he’d issued a statewide mandate, which other states had not. “I think we’ve taken the right approach here in Arkansas. We just have to urge compliance.”

Would there be any repercussions to those that don’t get the matter under control? No, Hutchinson said, “this is a partnership.” He said, “It’s up to citizens….. I don’t think anybody wants the state to control everybody’s behavior.”

Hutchinson was asked about the state law that says absentee ballots must be counted by the time the polls close at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3. He was asked whether that should be clarified since the attorney general while fighting a lawsuit against the law,  has said all ballots must be counted. He said the practice in the past was to count all ballots. “I’ll leave that there,” he said. That suggests he has no plans tot\ take executive action to clarify the issue, as he could do. What if the Supreme Court says the law must be followed as written meaning ballots uncounted by 7:30 p.m. would be invalidated? The governor wasn’t asked and he didn’t volunteer an answer.

BTW: The governor said he continues to test negative for COVID-19 himself and plans to resume normal activities next week.