Governor Hutchinson today carefully addressed Donald Trump’s “executive orders” on coronavirus aid (some are just suggestions) over the weekend. He also rejected a call for a delay in in-person school.
On the president’s announcements: He said the president is “doing his best” to get money to people in need. “He’s clearly just trying to figure out a way to get relief to them quickly.”
But he said the best solution was a congressional agreement. He dodged Trump’s questionable legal ability to designate money for disaster relief as well as his idea to cut the payment by at least a third. He did address Trump’s idea to make states pay for a quarter of a $400 payment.
Hutchinson said 120,000 people in Arkansas would benefit from a continuation of enhanced jobless compensation. If the state has to put up 25 percent, the state “can make that happen but it will be challenging,” he said. The cost would be about $265 million.
The state has set aside $250 million of CARES Act money into a reserve. That would have to be tapped. The state would also have to use money and that would require a legislative appropriation process, which would be time-consuming. Some other money might have to be reallocated.
My summary of Hutchinson’s take on Trump: Not the best approach. People need support. Congress needs to act. The state also needs more money from the feds to support the expected needs of public schools. Time will tell.
VIRTUAL SCHOOL: He rejected the AEA’s call to begin school virtually.
“We’re having the opposite approach,” he said. “Let’s start school with in-classroom instruction. If we have to adjust down the road in individual school districts, we’ll do that.”
He said his approach was best for students and the state was trying to include all means “to give teachers confidence.” He said he understood teachers’ concerns about safety but said districts were doing all they can to make conditions safe.
The daily COVID-19 count
Arkansas added 645 cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours (13 from prisons), pushing the total since March to 50,028. Hospitalizations fell 6 to 508. 117 are on ventilators. Deaths rose by 11 to 555. Active cases: 7,343.
The top counties for new cases in the last 24 hours: Pulaski, 61; Sebastian, 52; Garland, 50; Saline, 43; Jefferson, 40; Craighead, 32; Benton, 21, and Independence, 20.
Total tests in the last 24 hours: 5,341. The rolling average of positive tests per week has been above 10 percent since the first of July. It is 8.8 percent over the entirety of the pandemic period beginning in March.
The governor said a chart demonstrating the daily average of new cases by week showed a drop in the most recent week, a sign he thinks that his mask mandate might be having a positive impact.
He also noted the cases to date are below the projections by UAMS. But the projections for deaths are well ahead of the number expected (543 by Aug. 15).)
UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION: Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said he was awaiting guidance on how new money if it’s forthcoming from Trump’s action, will be spent. He warned again about potentially fraudulent claims but gave no update of state progress in unlocking the thousands of accounts frozen in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. He said mail will be arriving about how those people may go in person to an office to clear up improperly frozen accounts. He had no number on the number of accounts that had been unfrozen, an effort that began only last week though the problem emerged in early May. But fully 37,000 on regular and special unemployment remain frozen, meaning more than a quarter of people in need aren’t getting help. It should be a scandal, but it passes nearly unremarked (except here). Mike Preston did get his $50,000 bonus for the year, though.
THE RISING CASE LOAD: When a reporter noted the doubling of new cases in the last six weeks, he said the case had managed the load well and it hadn’t stressed hospitals. He again emphasized the state was beating the curve, as measured by UAMS projections. But he said the new case daily report is “still too high.”
FOOTBALL: Why are teams still being allowed to practice after a player tests positive. “Just because one student has a positive test or is quarantined, it doesn’t mean the whole team is,” he said. He said it was an error when one district quarantined a whole team and the state informed the school of that. Positive tests aren’t a surprise nor is a continuation of practice. “It’s consistent with our public health guidelines.”
He also said he didn’t think the SEC, in which Arkansas participates, should cancel its football system. He said the state is “comfortable with” limitations on fans who will attend games. Athletes, he noted, have to be willing to do it and they want to play. The coaches aren’t saying they want to back off, he said. “Sure there’s going to be a positive case, but you work through that and move on.”
NEW VIRUS: Health Director Jose Romero used his time at the podium to warn parents about a respiratory viral syndrome expected to be more prevalent this year that can cause acute paralysis and weakened legs in children. Its spread also can be reduced by use of health measures used to curb coronavirus — face masks and hand washing.