Governor Hutchinson’s weekly coronavirus briefing addressed the widely reported delays in contact tracing.

He acknowledged the growth in cases has slowed the time to almost five days  between a positive test finding and the first contact. But he said Arkansas is “doing better than most.”

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He also blamed some of the slowdowns on a change in how cases are prioritized. In Arkansas, that will mean prioritizing cases reported within six days, others will get less attention.

He also asserted again today that it is mostly community spread responsible the rise in cases, not visiting any of the businesses, schools and churches he’s worked so hard to keep open.

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The daily COVID-19 count

Not good, as you can see. Another record in hospitalizations. A jump in active cases. A near-record one-day increase. Positivity rate well into the double digits.

Other topics

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Health Director Jose Romero made another pitch, with a visual aid, for being careful during the Thanksgiving holiday. Good luck with that in Arkansas.

He said the review of vaccines for emergency use will begin on Dec. 10. The first allotment will not be sufficient for everyone, he said, and it likely won’t be sufficient for all until the second or third quarter of 2021.

Education Secretary Johnny Key said school districts were doing a good job of targeting where switches are made to remote instruction and keep in-person classes going to the greatest extent possible.

Hutchinson was asked about nurses who paid license fees early ahead of coming graduation and thus aren’t eligible for the fee waiver the governor announced last week. He said he’d look into it, but said the waive was meant to be “forward-looking” not retroactive. He acknowledged many of the newly graduated nurses won’t be ready for immediate deployment in ICUs.

We’d heard from a student who wrote about the waiver Hutchinson announced:

Here’s the catch…we were advised by our superiors to pay all of our fees and apply 60 days before graduation (Dec 18). So while it was a very gracious offer, most of us paid the fee that was waived in the last two weeks and the AR Board of Nursing has notified us that the waiver is not retroactive.

It was a little over a $100 for the application and it won’t break my bank. However, for some students it is a lot. The total cost for us to take our state boards, background check, etc. is nearly $400. It seems as though, like closing restaurants at 11pm, that this will actually not help anyone.

Hutchinson had no good answer for a reporter about tenants unable to get rental assistance because landlords won’t waive late fees on unpaid rent, a requirement for using the limited pool of assistance money the state has made available.
There were questions about the Springdale School District’s move districtwide to go virtual through Dec. 7 because of staffing shortages. The schools will remain open for students who choose to go, Key emphasized. But Hutchinson wouldn’t be drawn into saying it might be acceptable for other districts. “As much time as you can spend in the classroom the better,” he said. He said he was delighted Springdale WOULD go back to class before Christmas and he expected other districts to do the same.
The governor said there’d be no mandate to take vaccines when they are available.