WHITE HOUSE SUMMARY

Governor Hutchinson held his weekly coronavirus briefing today against a grim backdrop:

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  • The White House coronavirus task force notes that the state situation is worsening and it recommended reducing restaurant indoor capacity from two-thirds to less than 25 percent and restricting bar hours in the 52 of the state’s 75 counties in the “orange” or “red” zones for cases. Here’s the full White House report. It says in part:
  • … there is now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, furtherdeterioration. Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies.We share the strong concern of Arkansas leaders that the current situation is worsening and that there is a limited time window to limit further cases and avoid increases in hospitalizations and deaths. The Governor’s active measures are commended.Given the change in the slope in the last two weeks post Halloween, Arkansas is on the precipice of a rapid, accelerating increase in cases which will be followed with new hospital admissions. Ensure compliance with public health orders including wearing masks.

  • Hospitals are pressed, with some nearing capacity for ICU beds. The Health Department provided these numbers on ICU demand, cautioning that the numbers are “fluid” and can change rapidly.

The briefing began with a promise of updates on compliance with state health guidelines. And he said he expected to talk with “Vice President Biden’s” transition team. Still can’t say “President-elect.”

He quoted the White House’s alarming report and a forecast of 1,000 more deaths by Christmas if steps aren’t taken. Health Director Jose Romero added, “Now is the time to act.”

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COVID-19 daily summary

1,554 new cases in the last 24 hours

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Active cases up 91, to 16,576.

Hospitalizations up 34, to 895, a new record.

Deaths up 20, 2,445. The majority come from nursing homes.

Testing 7452 PCR and 3,234 antigen.

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Pulaski, Washington and Benton counties all reported more than 100 new cases.

All the trend lines are up, the governor acknowledged, including a positive test rate above 10 percent.

Other topics

COMPLIANCE: 181 violations and 210 verbal warnings have been issued since July as a result of 3,700 DFA compliance checks of restaurants and bars. Mike Moore said 93 percent compliance shows most “are trying.” But a few violations can cause real problems, he said. He said the state’s goal is for businesses to stay open and to educate rather than punish. But he said more accountability is coming “to get better results.”

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION GRANTS: $50 million is available to reimburse hospitality and personal care businesses for costs of pandemic shutdowns. Applications will be taken through Nov. 25 via a link at arkansasready.com

SCHOOLS: 72 school districts have schools or whole districts that have currently shifted to remote instruction. Secretary Johnny Key said this had been expected in the event of community spread and the state was prepared for this.

Q&A

The White House has recommended pausing sports because of infections tied to related activities, such as parties afterward, if not necessarily the games themselves. “We don’t plan on canceling athletics,” Hutchinson said. “That would be terrible for the health of our young people. But we will look for better ways to control the environment.”

He seemed to reject the White House recommendation to further limit inside dining. He said it would put many out of business. He said a better approach was stronger compliance. “Without some data that connects it with a problem, it would be wrong” to shut them down, Hutchinson said.

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But why not take a look at targeted restrictions rather than a full-scale shutdown, Hutchinson was asked. He said informal gatherings are “becoming challenging,” but he said he didn’t think he was ready to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people indoors because it could stop such things as volleyball games. “And you can’t regulate the home.” So, instead, the state is asking people to be careful.

And he was also asked about concerns related to the Trump administration’s refusal to fully cooperate with the Biden transition team. He said there were still election contests to consider, but “we do want that seamless transition and governors are looking at ways to make sure that happens.”

He said the state was operating safely and he wasn’t considering letting more state workers work from home. And he insisted again in response to a question that the state had taken a good approach of blending education and encouragement with enforcement.