Gov. Asa Hutchinson took his daily coronavirus briefing to El Dorado today. His message was upbeat.
The number of coronavirus cases rose by 59 over the weekend, to 4,043. Deaths stand at 94.
Hutchinson, introduced by House Speaker Matthew Shepherd of El Dorado, lamented the recent loss of Murphy Oil headquarters. But he said South Arkansas remained strong from a diverse economy, as the state as a whole does.
Hutchinson said he believed Arkansas was one of the best-positioned states to do a quick turnaround in the economy. Why? Because Arkansas didn’t completely shut down the economy and “minimized some of the hurt out there.” He’s still patting himself on the back, in other words.
On other topics, the governor said he was distressed by some reports over the weekend that people weren’t following social distancing guidelines. He encouraged people to stick with it.
Commerce Secretary Mike Preston announced the pandemic unemployment assistance for independent contractors is now “up and running.” He said 23,000 had filed claims. About 100,000 of some 170,000 in conventional claims are now being paid.
Problems on the social distancing front
During the Q&A, the governor was asked again about the scheduled music show Friday at Temple Live in Fort Smith, three days before guidelines allow such shows to resume.
Hutchinson said the concert would “violate our directives.” It has not been approved, he said. And he said their plan is insufficient as well. He didn’t say what he’d do if they attempt to go forward.
He also was asked about crowds that were seen in retailers over the weekend. He said they’d never been closed and he didn’t want to single out any particular merchant, but rather to urge them all to follow good practices. “95 percent of our businesses are doing it,” he said.
Another question concerned the fairness of small restaurants being too small to open for dining while larger venues can. Hutchinson noted some restaurant people oppose opening altogether. He said Arkansas made the best judgment it could. He noted Texas had reopened at 20 percent of occupancy, against a third in Arkansas.
He was asked about some cities’ plans to resume youth baseball and soccer. The governor said these were team sports that were going to be considered in late May with appropriate guidance for June and July. Practice is possible if groups are small and distances are maintained, but team sports have not been approved yet,
The governor and Health Director Nate Smith talked about enforcement. They continued past statements: They prefer to work cooperatively. But they do have stronger options, including shutting down businesses.