Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily coronavirus briefing: Another huge jump in new cases.
The daily coronavirus count
358 news cases in Arkansas, increasing yesterday’s midday count to 8,425. (It’s short of the one-day record of 375.) Hospitalizations dropped by one to 137. Deaths (not necessarily in a 24-hour period) rose nine to 151.
Washington County led the new cases, with 111 and then 92 in Benton County and 34 in Pulaski County. The Northwest stands out as a problem area.
4,350 tests were done in 24 hours with a 5.2 positive rate.
“The trend line is up. We have some work to do,” Hutchinson said. He said he “liked” the fairly consistent positivity rate, however.
He emphasized as he does frequently that national guidelines for resuming normal business are just guidelines. A state is supposed to demonstrate both a dropping number of new cases (Arkansas doesn’t) and a declining positive testing rate (Arkansas doesn’t.) But said Hutchinson: “A flat line is good enough for me.” He said he wants to expand the ability of businesses — he mentioned restaurants specifically — to have more leeway.
The federal guideline to move to phase 2, with even fewer restrictions, is to have no “rebound” in cases. Hutchinson said he doesn’t consider the huge increase in Northwest Arkansas a rebound, but a result of increased testing.
He said he was considering regional differences in lifting restrictions and would announce more next week. Phase 2 changes may be done on a regional basis, he said.
A reporter noted that the governor had previously advocated uniform statewide standards. He responded: “I think you have to ask the question at some point do you want to release one region to go to Phase 2.” But he also noted Northwest Arkansas had pleaded for this when it had a low case count and now it is leading the state in new cases.
How could the state enforce standards regionally? How could businesses figure it out? “Stay tuned, there’ll be more on that later if we make that judgment.” He said he didn’t want to discuss details because it might not happen. But he said when you look at trend lines, it must be considered.
He was asked about positive COVID-19 by seven athletes at Arkansas State University. The governor said that could be expected at multiple campuses and universities are prepared to address that deal with that.
Is he concerned that Black Lives Matter protests could spread coronavirus? Yes, he said. He said he respected the rights of people to speak, but he hoped people would be careful and mindful of others and maintain safety precautions.
Dr. Nate Smith, the health director, said there are guidelines for large outdoor venues that, if they’re followed, can reduce the risk for spread of the disease and prevent “another tragedy like the one they’re protesting.”
He said there are no current plans for a special legislative session. He said the Senate had called for it. He said he had not heard from the House. “There’s a lot more work to be done,” he said.