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Public Affairs
Resources for Arkansas COVID-19

The latest Arkansas COVID-19 information and resources.

Daily COVID-19 Updates

7/10/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 751 additional cases since yesterday, July 9, for a total of 26,803 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 751 cases, 149 were in correctional facilities and 602 were from the community.  There are 5,847 active cases, with 123 in nursing homes, 584 in correctional facilities, and 5,140 community cases.  There have been 20,642 recoveries.  Total deaths—313. There are 402 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 84 on ventilators.

There were 5,212 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 48,525.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor held his daily COVID-19 press conference at the University of Arkansas Cossatot campus in DeQueen.
  • The Governor noted that the statewide COVID-19 growth rate from June 28-July 4 was 18.02%. The highest growth rate is no longer in Northwest Arkansas, but in Central Arkansas.
  • The Governor noted that commercial labs are taking too long and results need to be provided sooner. The average time period for collection to reporting results to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has been the following: March- 3.2 days; April- 1.6 days; May-1.7 days; June- 2.0 days; July- 2.5 days. He is not concerned about testing supply availability in Arkansas but is concerned about the national supply due to outbreaks in large states. There are six commercial labs that are outside of Arkansas, so there are pressure points in the testing chain. The Governor continues to call for President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act.
  • Asked about conspiracy theories that masks are not necessary, the Governor said those that believe them are in the extreme minority. He mentioned the recent poll which asked why individuals do not wear a mask. The reasons were varied, but those that mentioned a conspiracy theory was very low.
  • Regarding COVID-19 infections at poultry plants in Sevier County, where DeQueen is located, the Governor said he met with the manager of the Pilgrim’s Pride plant and was very impressed with their safety precautions.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The most cases yesterday were from Hot Spring County, 145, and were associated with the Ouachita River Correctional Facility. Asked what happened at the Ouachita River Correctional Facility, because all the inmates had previously been tested, Dr. Smith said that many inmates were negative when originally tested. However, they had been exposed to COVID-19, asymptomatic, and tested positive after being tested again.
  • Dr. Smith said no county has been hit as hard as Sevier County. There have been 788 cases In Sevier County. The positivity rate in Sevier County is 17.9%, compared to a statewide average of 7.2%.  2/3 of Sevier County cases are from the Latinx community, which makes up 1/3 of the population.
  • Asked about the CDC recommendations for widespread serial testing, Dr. Smith said ADH would pursue that strategy when able to. ADH already does serial testing in some congregate settings, such as nursing homes and correctional facilities.
  • Dr. Smith said utilizing data is a challenge in addressing COVID-19 because there are so many data points. As part of contact tracing, ADH always budgeted in data management and has been using data management since the very beginning. As ADH works to build out its contact tracing efforts, ADH hopes to get data in more quickly. ADH faces the same challenges as everywhere else.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at the ADH

  • Dr. Romero spoke in Spanish and provided a direct address to Sevier County’s Latinx population.

 

 

7/9/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 806 additional cases since yesterday, July 8, for a total of 26,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 806 cases, 110 were in correctional facilities and 696 were from the community. There are 5,571 active cases, with 131 in nursing homes, 444 in correctional facilities, and 5,176 community cases. There have been 19,992 recoveries. Total deaths—309. There are 394 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 82 on ventilators.

 

There were 4,734 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 43,313. The cumulative positivity rate is now 7.2%.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.
 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor held a press conference with U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, and U.S. Representative French Hill. The Governor mentioned their working lunch, where they discussed Arkansas’s efforts to work on the future of law enforcement. The Governor indicated that General Barr committed the U.S. Department of Justice to filing a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, to attempt to overturn the case that struck down Arkansas’s work requirement, implemented as part of Arkansas’s Medicaid expansion.
  • General Barr met with law enforcement officials and officers this morning. He spoke highly of the efforts taking place in Arkansas regarding ensuring Arkansas law enforcement is as professional and receptive to the needs of the community as possible. He also spoke supportively of Arkansas potentially passing hate crimes legislation.
  • The Governor announced the start of school will be moved to the week of August 24, but no later than August 26. The decision was made after consulting with Secretary Johnny Key of the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) and communicating with educators and parents. This will provide school districts more time to ensure teachers are prepared and campuses are ready for students to return.
  • ADE and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) have prepared a response plan for what will occur if there are positive cases in schools. The response plan can be viewed here. There are three response levels: limited response, intermediate response, and critical response. The school district, in consultation with ADH and ADE, will make case-by-case determinations.
  • Asked about widespread testing of students, the Governor said there will not be systematic testing of students. Testing will be conducted on an as-needed basis.
  • ADH has set forth mask-wearing guidelines that provide flexibility for local school districts to determine mask-wearing guidelines. The school districts’ local plans allow for a balance between the ADH expertise, ADE broad guidelines, and flexibility for local school districts.
  • In response to a question about why schools were returning for in-person instruction when cases are higher now than in the spring, the Governor said there is more infrastructure for understanding the spread and experience dealing with COVID-19, so it is a totally different environment now than during the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Responding to a question about higher education, the Governor said he is not planning to encourage higher education to start later and has no plans for additional guidelines for higher education.
  • The Governor thinks it is too early to determine missteps associated with responding to COVID-19, in response to a reporter’s question. He knows that there is always room for improvement. He also mentioned that testing unavailability and supply chain issues were problems in the beginning, but that was out of the state’s control.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith showed a slide with the top 10 total active community cases by Arkansas cities. Springdale in Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock in Central Arkansas were the highest, with 641 and 414, respectively. Danville, with 96 active cases, has 397.8 cases per 10,000 residents, far exceeding the next closest city, Springdale, which has 79 cases per 10,000 residents.
  • Dr. Smith reiterated that all the guidelines and directives are based on three outcome-based goals for in-person education: you do not want kids getting sick at school, you do not want teachers getting sick at school, and you do not want kids or teachers spreading COVID-19 in their homes.
  • Responding to the question about the biggest mistake made responding to COVID-19, Dr. Smith said that while ADH made an intentional attempt to work with higher risk communities and made good progress to engage, he wishes ADH could have done more to help prevent transmission in those communities. He knows ADH has much stronger relationships now in higher risk communities.

Johnny Key: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE)

  • Secretary Key stated that typically schools begin the school year by August 13, but the Arkansas Code provides flexibility for a later start date. The reason for the date being pushed back is so that teachers and administrators can be fully prepared to meet the needs of students.
  • Secretary Key is confident many districts would be ready to go, but in an abundance of caution, it was determined it was best to move the start date back for schools. Preparing for the upcoming school year will require extensive professional development for blended learning.
  • The response plans will provide for a clear communication process so that school districts can work with ADH and ADE to determine the best course of action to respond to positive cases, based on analyzing the particular facts involved.
  • School districts are not required to submit plans on how they will prepare for the upcoming school year. ADE is strongly recommending mask-wearing, but not mandating it.
  • There is no statewide plan for a teacher shortage based on COVID-19 cases. Teacher illness policies are best addressed at the local level. Secretary Key has confidence that local districts can create appropriate policies.
  • Secretary Key said that no consideration has been given to closing schools after Thanksgiving, like higher education institutions are planning to do. However, it could depend on the response level for the school or school district.
  • Secretary Key said there is no state-level procedure for community notification of positive cases.
  • Secretary Key acknowledged that the expectation is that the later start date will not impact teacher contract days or contact days for students. He anticipates the end of the 2020-2021 school year being late May or early June.

 

 

7/8/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 734 additional cases since yesterday, July 7, for a total of 25,246 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 734 cases, 104 were in correctional facilities and 630 were from the community. There are 5,545 active cases, with 125 in nursing homes, 350 in correctional facilities, and 5,070 community cases. There have been 19,396 recoveries. Total deaths—305. There are 358 hospitalized patients with 79 on ventilators.

 

There were 4,567 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 38,579.
The chart below reflects Arkansas’s COVID-19 cases compared to testing in the state. The blue line is the seven-day rolling average of the number of new daily cases of COVID-19. The green line is a seven-day rolling average of the number of tests performed each day.

 

The seven-day testing average data reflects the Arkansas Department of Health statistics whenever available. When data is unavailable, a mathematical adjustment has been made to reflect estimated testing on that day.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor did not attribute the increase in cases to specific locations or activities, but believed the cases were a result of spread through normal community activities.
  • Regarding a tweet from President Trump that the federal government would withhold funds if schools do not reopen this fall, the Governor believes Arkansas’s approach is consistent with in-person instruction. Arkansas will have in-person instruction blended with virtual learning if necessary.
  • Responding to a question about President Trump saying CDC guidelines for reopening schools are too strict, the Governor said Arkansas is informed by CDC guidelines, but makes decisions based on the uniqueness of Arkansas’s needs.
  • Asked about University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) modeling that continues to predict a large number of cases and hospitalizations in the fall, the Governor pointed out that the model appeared to be flattening as individuals followed public health guidance. He also noted that the UAMS model said that Arkansas would have sufficient hospital capacity during the peak, which is now expected to be October 30.
  • The Governor said the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is working with the state’s higher education institutions to implement testing and contact tracing programs with CARES Act funds. There will be cases, but the key is to be prepared to handle those cases.
  • The Governor is encouraged by data showing that 82% of those surveyed saying they wear masks. He interprets it as 82% of those polled wear masks some, but not all the time.
  • Regarding Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) enforcement officers inspecting bars and restaurants for compliance with ADH directives, the Governor said he has reviewed their information, and a surprisingly high number are complying
  • Tomorrow’s press conference will focus on education.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith showed a slide where Sevier and Yell Counties are the top counties on a cumulative rate of cases by population basis. The Governor’s Press Conference will be in DeQueen, in Sevier County, on Friday.
  • Asked about an outbreak at a summer camp called Camp Ozark, Dr. Smith said Camp Ozark shared that information with ADH, sent some infected campers and counselors home, and ultimately closed down. ADH supports and appreciates the decision.
  • Each college has different populations and capabilities, so ADH will work carefully with each higher education institution this fall.
  • Northwest Arkansas has proven that the curve could be flattened without rolling back restriction easing.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force (AERTF)

  • Mr. Walton provided a series of slides with an overview of a statewide survey performed last week, stratified by county, broadly focused on the adult population from the 2019 census. The following is an overview:
    • 42% believe COVID-19 is the most important issue facing Arkansas, while 18% said the economy.
    • 82% said they wear PPE like a mask in public places.
    • At least 78% of every age group said they wear a mask in public, other than those 18-24. 67% of those 18-24 reported wearing a mask in public.
    • 55% reported preferring a regional or local approach to addressing COVID-19, based on the areas of the state where the cases of COVID-19 are most concentrated. 35% wanted a statewide approach.
    • 58% said their workplace was following the proper protocols in response to COVID-19, and 33% said it was inapplicable to them.
    • 54% reported being opposed to large events returning this fall, while 37% were in favor. 37% were strongly opposed and 19% were strongly supportive.
    • Of the 43% polled with kids, 59% said they were likely to send their kids back to school for in-person learning and 32% said it was unlikely. 49% were very likely and 23% said it was very unlikely.
    • 55% reported comfort with in-person activities such as dining or going to a gym, while 41% reported they were uncomfortable. 32% are very comfortable and 22% are very uncomfortable.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at the ADH

  • In response to a question about reports of long waits for tests in Washington County, Dr. Romero said Washington County’s Public Health facility has more capacity currently than the local hospital. It is operating from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Monday-Friday, and can process a significant number of specimens.

 

 

7/7/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 259 additional cases since yesterday, July 6, for a total of 24,512 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 259 cases, 23 were in correctional facilities and 236 were from the community. There are 5,486 active cases, with 117 in nursing homes, 273 in correctional facilities, and 5,096 community cases. There have been 18,725 recoveries. Total deaths—301. There are 369 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 83 on ventilators.

 

There were 3,366 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 34,012.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Cases continue to be driven by Washington and Benton Counties in Northwest Arkansas and Pulaski County in Central Arkansas.
  • The Governor showed a slide with the COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, broken down by southern states. Arkansas was behind only Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama with approximately 800 cases per 100,000 residents. The Governor showed another slide with the COVID-19 tests per 100,000 residents, broken down by southern states. Arkansas was behind only Louisiana and Tennessee, with approximately 12,000 tests per 100,000 residents. Arkansas was relatively better off on positivity percentage, behind five other southern states, at an approximately 6.8% positivity rate.
  • Asked about hospital capacity, the Governor said there has been a large increase in hospitalizations, but the system is not stressed or close to capacity.
  • Regarding a call Secretary DeVos of the US Department of Education had with governors this morning, where she said schools needed to be fully operational this fall, the Governor said he was not on the call when that statement was made. He believes that Arkansas’s blend of classroom instruction with virtual education would be compliant. He fully expects to continue Arkansas’s Ready for Learning plan.
  • In response to a question about whether the Governor believed cases had gone down because of the decrease in testing, the Governor said he was not prepared to say that, but he is tempering his enthusiasm about the lower case count until he sees a trend of lower cases.
  • Asked about the May data-breach associated with the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) portal, the Governor said he received a report from the forensic investigators but has not received an update from the FBI and expects it could take a while. He knows the portal is working and secure.
  • Regarding whether contact tracing has been effective, based on yesterday’s discussion of individuals not responding to calls, the Governor believes it has been based on the success in Northwest Arkansas. The Governor is not sure there is a better way. Even if you knocked on people’s doors, they still might not get a response, and then you must worry about transmittal issues.
  • The Governor believes there is sufficient demand for testing to get to 200,000 tests in July. There are supply chain issues and some testing facilities may be busier than others, but the state will continue to try to overcome those barriers.
  • Asked about online business fraud, the Governor said the Attorney General (AG) has consumer protection authority. The AG has been aggressive in trying to raise awareness of the issue and assist consumers who may have been taken advantage of.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith showed a slide with the numbers of cumulative cases by the 10 counties with the highest totals. The highest were Washington and Benton Counties, which are plateauing. Pulaski County was third and is currently rising.
  • Regarding the large increase in hospitalizations, the largest numbers came from Pulaski County, but they have increased statewide.
  • Dr. Smith reported that the ADH is working with the Arkansas Municipal League to provide a report of the number of cases by city.
  • The CDC is wrapping up their work in Northwest Arkansas and Dr. Smith expects to receive a final report with recommendations tomorrow afternoon. He has been reviewing a draft report.
  • Dr. Smith believes the decrease in testing is due to the long holiday weekend. He believes there is strong demand for testing, as 700 tests were collected at public health facilities yesterday. ADH is developing a strategy for retesting at nursing homes and proactively testing at correctional facilities. There may be a perception in Pulaski County that people do not feel like they need to get tested, but that needs to be changed.
  • Dr. Smith does not know the ages of those hospitalized since yesterday, and whether the ages are skewing younger, due to the increase in cases associated with younger Arkansans. Dr. Smith did note that five of the nine deaths yesterday were from those younger than 65.

Mike Preston: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce (DOC)

  •  Mr. Preston noted that there have been 43,000 approved Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) applications and $330 million dispersed. UI claims are leveling off from their peak of 122,522 on May 9 with 97,966 active cases. The state is heading in the right direction on first time claims as well. The peak was approximately 62,000 new claims, and now it has flattened out to approximately 10,000 a week.
  • The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) has seen an uptick in fraudulent activity, which is also happening nationwide. Bad actors are using victims’ personal information to file UI claims in the victim’s name. When there is suspected fraud, DWS has to lockdown the account where fraud is suspected. DWS has seen 14,000 suspected fraudulent claims associated with PUA and 6,000 with PI. Mr. Preston does not have a dollar amount of the suspected fraud. When there is suspected fraudulent activity, the account is flagged leading to an investigation. When the investigation clears up the matter, the funds can be released. DWS has hired 14 new employees to help with investigations.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at the ADH

  • Asked why some buildings at the Conway Human Development Center do not have cases, but family may not visit, Dr. Romero stated that CDC guidelines require 28 days without a positive case. He elaborated that it is still a congregate setting, all the buildings are considered one facility. There was an outbreak recently that has been brought under control.

 

 

7/6/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 439 additional cases since yesterday, July 5, for a total of 24,253 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 439 cases, eight were in correctional facilities and 431 were from the community.  There are 6,127 active cases, with 117 in nursing homes, 456 in correctional facilities, and 5,554 community cases.  There have been 17,834 recoveries.  Total deaths—292. There are 337 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 81 on ventilators.

 

There were 3,615 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 30,646. The new July goal is 200,000 tests performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Cases continue to be driven by Washington and Benton Counties in Northwest Arkansas and Pulaski County in Central Arkansas.
  • The state’s contact tracing contract was awarded to General Dynamics. The one-year contract to hire 350 contact tracers is worth approximately $20 million and may be extended. The contact tracers are expected to start this week. The state expects to request an additional $20 million to hire 350 more contact tracers, bringing the total to close to 1,000 contact tracers total. If the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) needs more contact tracers in the future, then the state will address that issue then. This is a big undertaking for the ADH.
  • The Governor expressed concern over supply chain issues that are preventing COVID-19 tests from being processed more quickly in commercial labs.  He brought the issue up with the White House Coronavirus Task Force this morning and noted invoking the Defense Production Act could fix the issue.
  • Responding to a question about bad behavior during the Independence Day weekend, the Governor said that while the focus is on bad actors, it is important to remember that so many worked hard to protect themselves and others. Asked about a restaurant, Brewskis, being shut down by ADH, he said if establishments will not comply with ADH’s directives, then ADH has no choice but to close the establishment.
  • Asked if there were COVID-19 clusters in churches, the Governor said he would not say there are case clusters at churches. He reinforced that the information ADH promulgated was that infected individuals reported attending a church service, not that they were infected at a church.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • There has now been at least one case in all 75 counties.
  • Central Arkansas is seeing steady increases in cases, which is concerning because of population density. Additionally, ADH is not able to take a targeted approach as they were in Northwest Arkansas where they identified case clusters associated with certain groups or places.
  • Dr. Smith said labs are struggling to get the reagents to do the needed testing.
  • Asked how ADH ensures quarantine compliance, Dr. Smith said that they do not have the personnel to have staff personally ensure compliance, but if necessary, they can get an Order of Quarantine. ADH encourages those infected to enroll in a software program that gives ADH visibility into their symptoms and how they are progressing with the virus.
  • There are no expanding clusters currently associated with churches.
  • Asked about cases in the Miller County Jail, Dr. Smith said ADH is aware and testing all inmates and staff. Of 300 tested, around 90 tested positive. While there is always a risk of community spread, they have not experienced that in Miller County.
  • Dr. Smith does not think ADH was behind in contact tracing, but said he believes additional personnel would be helpful with contacting the infected individuals’ contacts.

Stephanie Williams: Arkansas Department of Health Chief of Staff

  • Ms. Williams noted that one issue with contact tracing is it often takes multiple tries to reach an infected individual because they do not respond. The number that calls an infected individual or contact is 877-272-6819. The contact tracer will generally know where you have been, who you have had contact with, and will not ask for money.
  • Applicants can apply to be contact tracers on General Dynamics’ website.
  • It typically takes no more than two days before a contact tracer contacts an infected individual, after ADH is notified of the positive case. ADH prioritizes health care workers.
  • A case investigation typically is two to three contacts, requiring 45 minutes to one hour of time per contact.

 

 

7/1/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 420 additional cases since yesterday, June 30, for a total of 21,197 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 420 cases, 33 were in correctional facilities and 387 were from the community.  There are 5,757 active cases, with 153 in nursing homes, 525 in correctional facilities, and 5,079 community cases.  There have been 15,163 recoveries.  Total deaths—277. There are 275 hospitalized patients, with 72 on ventilators.

 

There were 7,993 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 180,595, exceeding the goal not only for June but for July. There is an overall positivity rate of 6.7%.

 

The chart below reflects Arkansas’s COVID-19 cases compared to testing in the state. The blue line is the seven-day rolling average of the number of new daily cases of COVID-19. The green line is a seven-day rolling average of the number of tests performed each day.

 

The seven-day testing average data reflects the Arkansas Department of Health statistics whenever available. When data is unavailable, a mathematical adjustment has been made to reflect estimated testing on that day.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor began his press conference by holding a football and a mask, stating that if the state wants football, then it needs to concentrate on wearing masks now to reduce the number of cases.
  • Lee County has the most cases, appearing to be driven by a correctional facility located there.
  • The Governor showed seven-day rolling average slides from the 10 largest counties, and they were all trending downward or flat.
  • The National Guard training at Ft. Chaffee scheduled for this weekend has been cancelled. It was determined that federal rules do not allow for all of the almost 4,000 Guardsman to be tested for COVID-19. It will not stop the National Guard training, the Guardsman will just not travel to Ft. Chaffee for the training.
  • Asked whether fraudulent unemployment claims were a big issue, the Governor said the Arkansas Department of Commerce is actively reviewing cases and payments are not made when there is an indication of fraud.  Cases may also be referred to prosecutors.
  • Regarding an NAACP request for hospital and testing supplies in East Arkansas, the Governor said he has discussed the issue with Dr. Smith, and they will continue to look at the issue and work with local officials to determine needs. Typically, requests such as these are made by local elected officials, hospitals, or more formal public health channels.
  • In response to a question about Goldman Sachs’ estimate that mask-wearing mandates could increase GDP by 5%, the Governor said that it is true that measures like mask-wearing mandates and shelter in place orders may reduce the spread of COVID-19, but he has to balance what is true with what is achievable and enforceable.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith brought up several new health concerns associated with COVID-19: blood clots, neurological complications such as strokes, and heart disease. While these have not been common, he wants to reinforce that COVID-19 can lead to serious, permanent health challenges. The majority of recoveries have come back with their pre-COVID state of health, and they are still classified as recovered, even if they have permanent health issues due to COVID-19. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) does not have good data on how many recoveries have post-COVID health concerns, but that is likely something that will be explored not only in Arkansas but elsewhere.
  • Of the 1,300 ever hospitalized with COVID-19:
    • 860 or 66.2%: Discharged;
    • 263 or 20.2%: Still hospitalized; and,
    • 177 or 13.6%: Died
  • Of the 203 COVID-19 patients ever on a ventilator:
    • 94 or 46.3%: Died;
    • 57 or 28.1%: Taken off a ventilator; and,
    • 52 or 25.6%: Still on a ventilator.
  • Not all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in hospitals: 2/3 of the deaths have occurred in nursing homes.
  • In response to a question about nursing homes in Saline County reporting that they have not heard from ADH in order to reopen, Dr. Smith stated they should contact the ADH or the Arkansas Health Care Association if they have concerns. If a nursing home has a positive test within 28 days, they cannot reopen.

Major General Kendall Penn: Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard

  • According to General Penn, federal rules require those in Annual Training drill status cannot be tested unless they are symptomatic. As a result, General Penn recommended cancelation of the Ft. Chaffee training. The issue was discovered when the Arkansas National Guard tried to purchase testing kits with federal funds. The troops will train at their local armories, where the troops are more geographically homogenous, utilizing public health guidance. Asked if this change will impact readiness, General Penn said it would not. He reported that the scheduled training was a steppingstone and building block for combat training skills that are needed for a deployment status the 39th Infantry Brigade will be in next summer. The Army may make a different determination based on the training that can actually be accomplished.

 

 

6/30/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 520 additional cases since yesterday, June 29, for a total of 20,777 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 520 cases, 18 were in correctional facilities and 502 were from the community. There are 5,976 active cases, a new peak, with 120 in nursing homes, 548 in correctional facilities, and 5,308 community cases. There have been 14,531 recoveries. Total deaths—270. There are 290 hospitalized patients, with 67 on ventilators.

 

There were 4,048 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 171,944. There is an overall positivity rate of 6.8%.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The state ended the fiscal year $360 million ahead of where the state thought it would be, after revising the budget forecast downward this spring. Luckily, the economy did not fall as drastically as feared. The Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA) will be funded, including $121 million to the public-school fund and fully funding higher education, restoring $42.4 million. The revenue forecast was revised to $5.624 billion. Category B in the RSA will be funded. $72.2 million will be restored to the Medicaid Trust Fund (MTF), bringing its balance to $255 million. The MTF was reduced during the year and its restoration will bring its balance back to where it started at the beginning of the fiscal year. There is $225 million in unallocated reserves, which will stay in place until the legislature determines what to do with the funds. There is $152 million in the state’s long-term reserve fund.
  • The Governor does not anticipate changing the revenue forecast for FY21, as July could be a down month, the future remains uncertain. It appears many individuals paid their personal income taxes before the July 15 deadline.
  • The Governor approved a 2.2% merit pay increase for state employees.
  • The Governor announced that Wendy Kelley, Secretary of the Department of Corrections resigned yesterday to spend more time with her family. It surprised the Governor, but he appreciated all her hard work and commitment to the organization, its employees, and inmates.
  • Asked about the Little Rock School District requiring masks in schools, the Governor noted school districts have the flexibility to address their local needs if they follow the state guidelines. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and Arkansas department of Education (ADE) prepared the guidelines: Arkansas Ready to Learn. He wants the school districts working with the individual principals and parents. Anything required by the ADE will be in partnership with ADH.
  • Regarding whether he would ever mandate mask-wearing, the Governor said he would consider it if it was supported by the science. He continues to review the data, and for many reasons, he does not think a mask-wearing mandate is needed now. He continues to talk with other Governors and most do not have a statewide mask-wearing mandate. While some states such as New York and Illinois are seeing positive trends associated with mask-wearing mandates, others, like California, are not.
  • In response to a question about the Washington County Coroner expressing concern about reopening nursing homes, the Governor said if the nursing homes follow the ADH and CDC guidelines, they can open with restrictions. The CDC guidelines require 28 days without a positive case. A majority of facilities will be allowed to reopen, but a significant number will not be able to reopen immediately.
  • Asked about whether the state’s medical marijuana commission should approve additional licenses, the Governor said if there is a need for greater supply, then there should be additional licenses.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The cases were driven by Washington County with 152 and Pulaski County with 118. 44% of the Pulaski County cases were from Little Rock and 30% from Wrightsville, which is likely due to the correctional facility in that community. The 18-25 age group is the leading age group for COVID-19 cases.
  • Testing at the states’ long-term care facilities (LTCF) is mostly complete, with more than 40,000 staff and resident tests performed. 362 LTCF have been tested, with 59 showing a positive case. The CDC guidelines requiring a 28 day wait for reopening after a positive case is to provide consistency. A second CDC team will be coming to Arkansas to work on cases in nursing homes and to help provide information on how COVID-19 spreads in nursing homes.
  • Speaking of the fourth of July and large venue plans, Dr. Smith noted that a plan is only as good as its implementation. He encouraged everyone to enjoy themselves but be safe.
  • Regarding COVID-19 transmittal in schools, it is still uncertain how it occurs. The research is beginning to demonstrate that kids are not the same as adults. Dr. Jose Romero is monitoring these findings and will apply them to the school setting. Dr. Smith noted that kids are often more adaptable than adults, so we may find that mask-wearing is easier for them than adults.
  • With approximately 25% of positive cases, contact tracers have been unable to link the case to a specific exposure source.
  • ADH has selected their first choice for the contact tracer procurement and hope to have them started as soon as this week.

 

 

6/29/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 439 additional cases since yesterday, June 28, for a total of 20,257 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 439 cases, 21 were in correctional facilities and 418 were from the community.  There are 5,926 active cases, with 116 in nursing homes, 583 in correctional facilities, and 5,227 community cases.  There have been 14,066 recoveries.  Total deaths—265. There are 300 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 63 on ventilators.

 

There were 4,939 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 167,168.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor announced the state has received an additional 50,000 N95 masks.
  • The Governor participated in a conference call with the Vice President and other Governors regarding how to expand testing in hotspots and enhance compliance with public health guidance such as social distancing.
  • While Washington County leads the state in cases, the Governor said they are seeing progress due to mask-wearing, social distancing, contact tracing, and increased testing. Concerns are emerging about Central Arkansas, which is the densest area of the state, now that Pulaski County had the second most cases.
  • The Governor showed a slide of per capita testing for the Southern states, from April-June.  Arkansas has gone from close to the bottom to third in per capita testing, close to 10,000 per 100,000 residents.
  • Asked about special measures for July 4 weekend, the Governor said that the main measure will be Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) enforcement officers who will be able to report violations of Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) directives to the ADH.
  • Regarding people not behaving well, the Governor brought up social media posts with parties at bars and restaurants where there was no social distancing or mask-wearing. He said this was a concern, and he wants to remind people to do the responsible thing.
  • In regard to his weekend appearance on ABC, where he expressed some openness for moving Confederate monuments on State Capitol grounds, he said that is a personal opinion, but it will require the legislature to make it happen. His priority would be the adoption of a hate crimes statute, providing for enhanced sentencing for those convicted of a hate crime.
  • In response to a question about easing restrictions, the Governor said he and Dr. Smith are focused on decreasing cases, whether they have the resources needed, and how to best encourage the state to do the right thing. When the time comes, they will ease restrictions, looking at several factors.
  • Regarding his invocation of the Defense Production Act for testing supplies, the Governor said he did have concerns that Arkansas might have to compete with bigger states for testing supplies. He knows that looking ahead, the country must be mobilized to have the testing production needed for an even more aggressive testing program.
  • Asked about increased cases, the Governor thinks it may have to do with complacency.
  • The Governor does believe the state is in a better place than it has been since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  Mask-wearing is more prevalent than in the past, and though there has been a long learning curve, their prevalence has greatly increased.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Asked about churches who were caught off-guard by the release of information regarding their facility being a site of COVID-19 cases, he said his intention was to highlight the issue that churches have been the sites of where COVID-19 patients had visited, not that they were infected at a church. There have only been a handful of clusters associated with churches, but if additional venues have clusters, they will let the public know, as they have for poultry processing plants and correctional facilities.
  • There have been COVID-19 cases at ADH, but there has not been evidence of transmission from ADH to the community.
  • Asked about increased testing, Dr. Smith stated that when commercial labs get backlogged, not just because of demand in Arkansas but other states, it causes testing to go down in Arkansas. There needs to be increased testing capacity in hospitals, but they are limited by the available re-agents.  Until there is a good supply chain, hospital testing will be limited.
  • Regarding what ADH is looking for in contact tracers, Dr. Smith said it is the ability to learn and report information accurately, along with good communication skills. They need some contact tracers with a medical background and some with specific linguistic skills, such as Spanish and Marshallese, as well. Depending on background and ability to learn quickly, it can take a week of training.
  • ADH does not have a perfect way to gather whether individuals were in non-compliance with ADH guidelines when infected. ADH is more concerned with ensuring there is no additional transmission, versus assigning blame.

 

 

6/26/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 678 additional cases since yesterday, June 25, for a total of 18,740 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 678 cases, nine were in correctional facilities and 669 were from the community, the largest day yet for community cases. There are 5,707 active cases, with 108 in nursing homes, 621 in correctional facilities, and 4,978 community cases. There have been 12,784 recoveries. Total deaths—249. There are 284 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 63 on ventilators.

 

There were 6,897 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 148,380.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Current Hospitalizations for COVID-19 Positive Cases in Arkansas by Public Health Region:
    • Northwest: 123 (43.3%)
    • Northeast: 28 (9.9%)
    • Central: 105 (37%)
    • Southwest: 23 (8.1%)
    • Southeast: 5 (1.8%)
  • Current ICU Hospitalizations for COVID-19 Positive Cases in Arkansas by Public Health Region:
    • Northwest: 58 (44.6%)
    • Northeast: 18 (13.8%)
    • Central: 43 (33.1%)
    • Southwest: 9 (6.9%)
    • Southeast: 2 (1.5%)
  • Number of ICU Beds Available for COVID-19 Positive Cases in Arkansas by Public Health Region:
    • Northwest: 42
    • Northeast: 32
    • Central: 60
    • Southwest: 18
    • Southeast: 18
  • In the 14 days prior to diagnosis, active COVID-19 cases visited the following types of businesses.
    • Restaurants: 114 (2%)
    • Barbershops: 32 (.6%)
    • Church: 95 (2%)
    • Daycare: 16 (.3%)
    • Gym: 17 (.3%)
    • Health and Wellness: 97 (2%)
    • Hotel or motel: 20 (.4%)
  • The Governor noted that just because you went to a location, does not mean you caught it there. While not included in his graph, less than 2% reported going to a bar.
  • The Governor noted clusters associated with churches. He said 98% of churches have followed the guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), but there have been instances where the guidance has not been followed. The Governor has wanted to respect the separation of church and state, so he has avoided directives focused at churches. If the guidance has not been followed, ADH has called church leaders and addressed it in that fashion.
  • The Governor reported that Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) officers have been engaged to direct violations to the ADH. ABC officers are out in the field frequently and will be a good resource to ensure compliance.
  • If the data shows outbreaks associated with bars, then he could take action like what is being done in Texas and Florida.
  • Asked about a City of Little Rock Ordinance on mask-wearing, the Governor said it was a Proclamation. He interpreted it as consistent and supportive of the state guidance, and an encouragement to wear a mask.
  • Regarding a question about business owners who feel as though requiring masks makes them look like the bad guy, the Governor believes the state approach is the right approach. He hopes the community will comply because it is the right thing to do.
  • Secretary of State John Thurston has announced that voters can obtain an absentee ballot if they are unavoidably absent, which would include concern about catching COVID-19 by going to the polling site. The Governor said that interpretation may solve the problem as it pertains to no-excuse absentee balloting, but he will have further conversations on the matter.
  • Asked again about the National Guard training at Ft. Chaffee, the Governor said the training was very important so he supported the training. In addition to PPE, soldiers will be placed in units so as not to be in contact with other units to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
  • The Governor disagrees with Dr. Fauci’s statement that contact tracing is not going well, because in Arkansas he believes it is. It can be improved, hence the state hiring more contact tracers.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The original Phase I restrictions were important but the current targeted approach is what is needed now. The state is not seeing case clusters, other than in poultry processing facilities and churches. However, ADH is seeing a decrease in poultry processing facility cases, as the implementation of the public health guidance is disrupting the chains of transmission.
  • Regarding places of worship, when ADH has found that they are in noncompliance with ADH guidance, many have temporarily stopped services or worked with ADH to implement the ADH guidelines. It has been worthwhile to implement guidelines, because even if there has been one case, they have not seen additional spread.
  • Asked about additional resources for testing in correctional facilities and nursing homes, Dr. Smith said one new aspect is working to provide the results electronically, in addition to scaled up testing capacity, so results can be obtained more quickly.
  • ADH is considering breaking the case totals to the city level. Some cities are concerned that their residents are not taking it seriously because they do not think there are cases in their city. ADH just wants to make sure they get it right and do not compromise privacy rights.
  • Regarding the Sebastian County cases, Dr. Smith said the median age is 31, which is younger than the state average.
The Governor’s Daily Press Conferences can be watched here.

 

 

6/25/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 687 additional cases since yesterday, June 24, for a total of 18,062 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 687 cases, 168 were in correctional facilities and 519 were from the community. There are 5,695 active cases, with 104 in nursing homes, 841 in correctional facilities, and 4,750 community cases. There have been 12,127 recoveries. Total deaths—242. There are 284 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 66 on ventilators.
There were 6,652 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 141,515. There is an overall positivity rate of 6.5%.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The seven-day rolling average shows cases decreasing overall in Northwest Arkansas. The Governor said that is because the community is taking the public health guidance seriously, and Dr. Smith’s strategy is working.
  • The Governor was asked why Washington County is testing less people per 10,000 than the rest of the state, when Washington County has the same testing availability. The Governor had no specific explanation, other than perhaps there are concerns from some residents about the perceived cost of testing. The percentage is significantly lower than neighboring Benton County, and Washington County had 51 more cases than Benton County yesterday.
  • Asked about Texas pausing its reopenings, the Governor said that Texas has opened to a greater capacity than Arkansas, and that Arkansas has paused its reopening as well. For instance, Texas allows for 3/4 capacity at restaurants, while Arkansas allows 2/3 capacity at restaurants. The Governor noted that most states have state-specific reopenings versus strictly following the White House’s guidance on reopening.
  • In response to a question about mask-wearing ordinances, the Governor said they can be helpful without violating the state’s directive. He mentioned one city passing a resolution on mask-wearing that does not impose a civil penalty.
  • Asked about some county officials saying they need to plan for November elections before August 1, the Governor’s deadline for planning for the November elections, the Governor indicated he has not heard that in his conversations but is open to their suggestions.
  • The Governor noted the federal government has primary responsibility for ensuring the health of the 4,300 National Guard members attending exercises at Ft. Chaffee, near Ft. Smith. The National Guard Bureau sent their protocols to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) for review.
  • The Governor does not view lockdowns as having been successful long-term in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in other states. While a lockdown can reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Governor does not think lockdowns are the right call because of the human harm caused by mass unemployment. The right balance is emphasizing the two messages: (1) following the strategy of social distancing, mask-wearing, mass testing, and quarantining; and (2) the necessity of personal responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Asked about the analogy between seatbelt wearing and mask-wearing, the Governor acknowledged there was some merit to the argument, but reminded the audience that it took years and years of resistance before seatbelt wearing became accepted by the broad public. The Governor thinks Arkansans are listening to his message, but he also knows moving too aggressively can cause resistance and less public acceptance of mask-wearing.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Responding to the question about a lower level of testing in Washington County, but a higher positivity rate, Dr. Smith noted that it is probably due to the testing of higher risk individuals or those that are symptomatic versus a broader spectrum of the population. He believes that the curve is being flattened in Benton and Washington Counties.
  • A cluster of cases in Lonoke County is associated with a training academy.
  • ADH is investigating new outbreaks in correctional facilities, and noted that previous cases in a correctional facility do not make the facility immune from another outbreak. A pre-symptomatic inmate who tests negative initially can still spread the virus to other inmates.
  • The CDC has not provided any recommendations to ADH at this point, but Dr. Smith looks forward to reviewing their recommendations when they conclude their work.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at the ADH

  • Dr. Romero reviewed the plans sent to the state by the National Guard Bureau, and found that they have good isolation procedures and meet cohorting needs.

 

 

6/24/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 697 additional cases since yesterday, June 23, for a total of 17,375 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 697 cases, 43 were in correctional facilities and 654 from the community. There are 5,567 active cases, with 100 in nursing homes, 819 in correctional facilities, and 4,648 community cases. There have been 11,568 recoveries. Total deaths—240. There are 267 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 58 on ventilators.

 

There were 6,654 tests performed yesterday, bringing the total tests for the month to 132,774.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor has directed the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to double the number of contract tracers. While there is not a backlog of cases, ADH is beginning to experience capacity challenges due to the continued large number of COVID-19 cases. There is currently an outstanding procurement for 350 contact tracers, but the Governor wants to add 350 more. This is in addition to the 200 ADH workers currently conducting contact tracing. An additional 350 tracers would cost $22 milion, and the Governor would like to have the contact tracers paid for by CARES Act funding and approved by the CARES Act Steering Committee and the Arkansas Legislative Council. The Governor expects to have the first 350 contact tracers working by mid-July, but it is hard to predict the timeline for the next 350 contact tracers.
  • The July goal for testing is 180,000 tests, which would be 6% of the population. There will be three surge testing events in Northwest Arkansas in the coming weeks.
  • The Governor noted that the cases today were not impacted as heavily by cases in Northwest Arkansas, but new counties that are experiencing an increase in cases. Hot Spring County had 168 cases, driven by cases at the Ouachita River Correctional Facility.
  • Asked about states such as Connecticut and New York putting Arkansas on a list of travel hotspots requiring quarantining, the Governor said Arkansas has work to do to reduce its cases, advising that he has not seen the list. He does not know how other states are interpreting the numbers, but it is inconsistent with ADH’s data. Also, the Governor does not know if it is effective to isolate locations for travel restrictions. He noted that some locations, like California, had extensive restrictions and isolation requirements, and they are seeing an increase in cases. It appears to be a matter of timing for when COVID-19 hits each state. However, as you travel, you must be careful.
  • Asked why Arkansas’s cases were growing so fast, the Governor thought a large percentage were coming from specific populations that work in certain industries, which is a reason why the CDC is in Northwest Arkansas. Poultry facilities in Northwest Arkansas are a vital part of the supply chain, and the facilities are in compliance with ADH requirements. They continue to test workers and perform contact tracing, and are beginning to see a decline in cases within poultry processing facilities.
  • Regarding whether Arkansas was just weathering the storm, the Governor stated that Arkansas was implementing a strategy, not just weathering the storm. He said the strategy is working, as cases are leveling off in Northwest Arkansas.
  • In response to a question about a lawsuit requesting the state to implement no-excuse absentee ballots for November due to COVID-19, the Governor stated he has reached out to counties and the State Election Commission to get their thoughts and concerns. He will make a decision, with their guidance, before August 1. This decision date will provide adequate time for them to prepare and make adjustments as needed.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The 350 contact tracers currently being procured was based on ADH needs associated with 1,000 active cases, but there are currently over 5,000 active cases.
  • Dr. Smith said the ultimate game plan is for a COVID-19 vaccine to be developed and provided to the public. He knows one potential vaccine is going into a Phase III clinical trial in July. He said ADH’s Dr. Romero is chairing a CDC Advisory Committee today, where the Committee is discussing a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Based on 2.8 contacts per active case, approximately 15,000 Arkansans should currently be in quarantine.
  • Dr. Smith acknowledged that the July goal of 180,000 is a lot of tests, but the state has shown it is capable of testing 6,000 a day. He said they are in good shape with supplies, but testing has been a challenge; just when you think you have one problem solved, another one pops up.

 

 

6/23/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 595 additional cases since yesterday, June 22, for a total of 16,678 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 595 additional cases, 212 were from correctional facilities and 383 from the community. There are 5,221 active cases. Of those 5,221 cases, 103 are from nursing homes, 779 from correctional facilities, and 4,339 from the community, which is a new peak. There have been 11,220 recoveries. Total deaths—237. There are 248 hospitalized patients, another new peak, with 57 on ventilators.

 

5,344 tests were performed yesterday bringing the total tests performed in June to 126,120.

 

The chart below reflects Arkansas’s  COVID-19 cases compared to testing in the state. The blue line is the seven-day rolling average of the number of new daily cases of COVID-19. The green line is a seven-day rolling average of the number of tests performed each day. This graph continues to show significant similarity in the two trend lines.
The seven-day testing average data reflects the Arkansas Department of Health statistics whenever available. When data is unavailable, a mathematical adjustment has been made to reflect estimated testing on that day.

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor was in Mountain Home for his Daily Press Conference. He noted that while Baxter County has very few cases, local officials understand they may not be immune in the future. The Governor cannot predict whether Baxter County will see an increase in cases, but local citizens should prepare for that possibility by being cautious and smart. Local hospitals are prepared for additional cases, but may need additional resources for testing and hospitalizations in the future.
  • The Governor discussed the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) model, which is predicting a peak of 133,000 total cases and 3,300 hospitalizations on September 30. The goal is to change the trajectory by doing massive amounts of testing, contact tracing and quarantining for those that are infected. Everyone has a role to play.
  • The state continues to build capacity for ICU beds and ventilators to prepare for the possibility of increased hospitalizations. There is a great partnership among hospitals that coordinate among themselves to ensure that no one hospital becomes overwhelmed.
  • Asked about how much say local educators will have regarding schooling in the fall, the Governor said that the state has provided a roadmap based on the principle that on-site instruction is the starting point, with blended learning for those who need virtual instruction. The state wants to provide flexibility for local school districts to make adjustments if they deem it necessary.
  • Regarding whether he is worried about an increase in cases due to the July 4 holiday, the Governor said there can be an increase in COVID-19 cases following large group activities. A number of cities have canceled mass gatherings, but he cautioned against individuals having a block party resulting in a spike in cases.
  • In response to a question about potential hate crime legislation, the Governor noted that he has previously expressed support for hate crime legislation that provides enhanced penalties for those convicted of committing a crime due to race. If the legislation is consistent with that premise, he would support and sign it into law if passed. He applauds the effort.
  • Asked if the state is doing everything it can to respond to COVID-19, the Governor said yes. If there is anything else the state could be doing, they would look at ways to accomplish it.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The correctional facility cases are primarily driven by cases in the Benton County Jail and the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern.
  • Dr. Smith noted that Baxter County has a 1% positivity rate for COVID-19, versus an 8.7% positivity rate for Northwest Arkansas, the public health region where Baxter County is located.
  • Though the UAMS predictive model is concerning, it can be mitigated through protective measures such as social distancing, hand washing, and mask-wearing.
  • Asked about the 4th of July, Dr. Smith said if we haven’t learned anything from what occurred after Memorial Day, then we can expect to see an increase in cases after the holiday. People know what they need to do, but also be aware that the chain of transmission can often lead to someone other than themselves being hospitalized or passing away.
  • The CDC is spending more time in Northwest Arkansas than they normally would. Each day is mapped out. Today, the team is spending time working on preparing focus groups for finding better ways to communicate with minority communities. Also, the CDC is conducting an in-depth analysis of household transmission, which is very challenging.

 

 

6/22/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 522 additional cases since yesterday, June 21, for a total of 16,083 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. There are 5,063 active cases. Of those 5,063 cases, 106 are from nursing homes, 642 from correctional facilities, and 4,315 from the community. There have been 10,793 recoveries. Total deaths—184. There are 227 hospitalized patients, with 61 on ventilators.

 

7,049 tests were performed yesterday. 120,053 tests have been performed, exceeding the June goal of 120,000. There is an overall positivity rate of 6.3%. The Governor will be announcing a July testing goal soon.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

COVID-19 Updates

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor met with Troy Wells, CEO of Baptist Health; Cam Patterson, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS); and Chad Aduddell, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI)-St. Vincent regarding hospital capacity. It is hard to compare hospital capacity now versus two months ago, because there were no elective procedures from the middle of March to early May. The hospital capacity statewide is in good shape, although Northwest Arkansas’s capacity is tight.
  • 2,552, or 28.6%, of the state’s 8,917 hospital beds are available. 222, or 22.3%, of the state’s 970 ICU beds are available. 583, or 65.2%, of the state’s 894 ventilators are available.
  • Asked about President Trump’s comments about slowing down testing, the Governor said Arkansas is not backing off testing, and wants to test more, even if it means more positive tests. On a call today with the Vice President, the Governor said the Vice President reiterated the federal government was focused on testing and delivering testing supplies to states. It is clear that the national policy is to expand testing.
  • Regarding China announcing they would not buy poultry from a Tyson plant in Springdale, Arkansas, the Governor said those actions are very troubling and unreasonable, as the products are not a health risk. He doesn’t know if they are playing politics, but it is not helpful. He has seen the efforts poultry companies have made to keep the plants safe, but recognizes that they can’t control workers when they leave work.
  • In response to a question about mask-wearing, the Governor said the more mask-wearing the better. He began wearing one when the CDC recommended it, set state-wide guidelines, and encouraged mask-wearing since day one.
  • Tomorrow’s press conference will be held in Mountain Home.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Age breakdown of COVID-19 cases in last 14 days:
    • Under 18: 13%;
    • 18-24: 14%;
    • 25-44: 37%;
    • 44-64: 26%;
    • 65+: 10%
  • Dr. Smith found the number of available ventilators encouraging, as it is hard to scale that up quickly. Also, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has a plan for expanding hospital capacity, but has not had to implement it yet.
  • The 85 cases yesterday, June 21, in Ouachita County are associated with a correctional facility there. ADH is still gathering information, but moved quickly to test 800 inmates. Additionally, 188 people have tested positive at the Benton County Jail.
  • Testing has been going well, but ADH recently had issues with vials they received from the federal government. ADH was advised that the vials were not suitable for use, so ADH is looking for other sources of the vials.
  • In the last 14 days, 2% of those testing positive for COVID-19 report having gone to a restaurant or church, 0.4% to a barbershop or hotel, and 0.2% to a gym.
  • Dr. Smith does not have a total number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital ICU, but of the hospitals with the top-10 number of cases, they range from five to 17 in an ICU bed. He does not have a percentage of individuals who have been on a ventilator and gotten off. The numbers are fluid and include many who stay on one for weeks.
  • Responding further to the question about the Chinese announcing the restriction on purchasing poultry from a Springdale processing plant, Dr. Smith said he was comfortable that the industry was ensuring employee safety and there is not a risk associated with the products.
  • Dr. Smith stated that the greatest impact to the current UAMS model regarding the projected late September COVID-19 peak would be for individuals to wear masks correctly.
  • Asked if there was a change in policy regarding students wearing masks on school buses, Dr. Smith said there has not been a change in policy. With kids, physical distancing measures are preferred, generally, as consistent mask-wearing is difficult for them.
  • Regarding a PPE shortage, Dr. Smith said overall he is not hearing that, but particular physician practices may have shortages. The state has a PPE decontamination unit for providers, with free shipping and decontamination within 72 hours.

Troy Wells: Chief Executive Officer of Baptist Health

  • Hospitals are getting busier, but he is concerned that patients were not getting care because they were delaying treatment. He does not want patients to delay care for chronic illnesses.
  • Critical care capacity is always a challenge. However, within Baptist Health’s in-patient facilities, only 16 are COVID-19 patients.
  • Major hospitals in metropolitan areas are used to moving patients around to ensure critical care and can increase beds if needed. They are adept at flexing services, as well.
  • They are still trying to acquire as much PPE as possible, but he believes they are in good shape. Baptist has moved PPE to rural communities, and has supplied non-Baptist providers at times.

Chad Aduddell: Chief Executive Officer of CHI St. Vincent

  • Mr. Aduddell wanted to assure Arkansans that Arkansas hospitals are in good shape with capacity. He stated that less than 5% of their patients are COVID-19 positive, and they have 1/3 bed capacity available.

Dr. Cam Patterson: Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS)

  • Dr. Patterson said UAMS works closely with other hospitals to accept transfers and can even have healthcare providers work at hospitals with shortages. Currently, there is much better testing, improved PPE supply chains, and hospitals can segregate COVID-19 patients from non- COVID-19 patients.
  • The difference between UAMS’ model and other models is that UAMS uses Arkansas data whereas the Washington model is extrapolating national data. The UAMS model gets evaluated weekly. He has confidence in it because it predicted 15,000 cases by the end of June, several months ago. All of the models are all lining up for a peak in late September, assuming there is not a change in behavior.

 

 

6/19/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 703 additional cases since yesterday, June 19, for a total of 14,631 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 703 cases, 41 were from correctional facilities, and 662 from community settings, which is a new record. Total deaths—214. There are 231 hospitalized patients, a new peak.

 

5,167 tests were performed yesterday. 92,275 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed. There is an overall positivity rate of 6.5%.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor highlighted that he issued a Proclamation for Juneteenth. Asked about whether Juneteenth should be a state holiday, the Governor indicated that additional thought would need to go into determining whether it would be a substitute or new holiday.
  • In May, Arkansas’s unemployment declined to 9.5%. This amounts to 46,000 more Arkansans employed in May.
  • The Governor announced that $12 million from the CARES Act Steering Committee was approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council today for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), ambulances, providers and workers. $10 million will go to EMS workers, those working on ambulances, and $2 million will go to the EMS providers for payroll tax support. Approximately 5,000 people will receive between $125-250 a week, depending on how many hours they worked between April 5 and May 30.
  • The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is issuing new guidance on face coverings. It is the same guidance as provided for places of worship. The Governor is not prepared to issue a directive on mask-wearing. The Governor believes it would be difficult to enforce a mask-wearing directive, and it is not good policy to have a directive that is very difficult to enforce. He did note that there are directives for specific industries and worksites that are effective and easier to enforce. The state will continue to evaluate what works well and can make adjustments as needed.
  • The Governor has not seen a push from a large number of cities wanting to enact mask-wearing ordinances.
  • Asked about Little Rock announcing that a Confederate statue located at MacArthur Park would be moved, the Governor said his Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism was working with the City of Little Rock to find an appropriate location for the statue. Regarding removing Confederate statues on the Capitol grounds, the Governor said that was a matter for the General Assembly to consider.
  • The Governor reiterated his comments from yesterday about those that attend President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If they can wear a mask or social distance, they should be fine, but if not, he recommended they get tested for COVID-19 when they return home.
  • Asked about voting by mail, the Governor said it has not been embraced by the legislature. He would consider no-excuse absentee voting if the pandemic is ongoing. He is waiting to hear back from County Clerks and the State Election Commission on their needs for the fall.
  • Regarding whether the public health emergency would impact schools in the fall, the Governor said the emergency will likely extend to the school year, but he does not see it as an impediment to the school year.
  • In response to a question about Kansas including Arkansas on their travel quarantine list, the Governor said he thought it was a little odd because the states have a similar number of cases.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Speaking of the new mask-wearing guidance, Dr. Smith mentioned a situation in Missouri where a hairstylist was infected but wore a facemask, and their patrons did not get infected. Dr. Smith said this is evidence that masks can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Dr. Smith mentioned that positive cases have been associated with 25 places of worship, where someone in attendance had COVID-19. In 1/3 of those cases, the place of worship was not requiring masks or the majority of attendees were not wearing masks. Dr. Smith also mentioned there appears to be correlation between increased cases and weekend activities.
  • Regarding the CDC team in Northwest Arkansas, Dr. Smith said they are mapping transmission networks to give ADH a better idea on how to disrupt the chains of transmission. Also, the CDC team can provide a deeper level of analysis. The Team will be in Arkansas for another two weeks.
  • Asked about an NPR article saying Arkansas needed 1,600 contact tracers, Dr. Smith said that the number of contact tracers needed depends on strategy. ADH considers it more useful for contact tracers to have a higher level of training than what some states utilize. Also, ADH is partnering with worksites and educational institutes for contact tracers.
  • Regarding predictive models, such as the one publicized by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Dr. Smith said that he appreciates them, but this pandemic has been challenging to predict mathematically. It has not been driven by uniform growth like a mathematical model would predict.

 

 

6/18/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 322 additional cases since yesterday, June 17, for a total of 13,928 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. There are 4,344 active cases, with 142 in nursing homes, 644 in correctional facilities, and 3,558 community cases. Total deaths—208. There are 226 hospitalized patients, a new peak.

 

6,654 tests were performed yesterday. 86,814 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor’s Press Conference was in Fort Smith today. He noted that the first meeting of the Task Force to Advance Law Enforcement was held today at the United States Marshals Museum.
  • The Governor ended his 30-day emergency order early, which he declared due to civil unrest associated with the protests of George Floyd’s killing.
  • In his daily slides, the Governor showed the seven-day rolling averages for every public health region, with a downward trend line for them all, including Northwest Arkansas.
  • The Governor extended the public health emergency for another 45 days.  This allows the state to keep in place certain provisions like the expanded telehealth rules and the executive orders limiting business and healthcare liability.  Importantly, the Governor noted that the declaration allows the Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to exercise statewide directives, superseding local rules and regulations, so the state can ensure uniformity in responding to COVID-19.
  • The Governor has no plan to challenge mask-wearing ordinances in Fayetteville and Little Rock, but noted that the state’s directive governs, disallowing rules more restrictive than what is provided in the state’s directive.
  • Asked about Kansas requiring a 14-day quarantine for those who come to the state from Arkansas, the Governor said he was provided no advance notice.
  • The Governor will not be attending President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As Tulsa is very close to Fort Smith, the Governor knows that many Arkansans will attend. If he was to attend, he said he would be wearing a mask and ensuring there was sufficient social distancing. If such criteria is not met, he encourages Arkansans to be tested for COVID-19.
  • Asked if he expected to see an increase in cases in the River Valley, where Fort Smith is located, and which is technically part of the Northwest Arkansas region, the Governor said yes, but it’s how you respond and manage it that is important.
  • In response to a question regarding whether he would consider restrictions on elective surgeries if regional hospitals were stretched thin by COVID-19, the Governor said it would not be his first or second option. The Governor noted the state’s surge plan, and that the state and hospitals were operating as a team.
  • Responding to University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) projections on a major increase in cases and hospitalizations in the early fall, the Governor indicated that it is a projection that assumes that nothing is done to mitigate the disease’s spread in the meantime. It is a reminder of how bad it could get, and a goal to do better than the projections.
  • Asked about a Benton County elected official who spoke negatively about wearing a mask, the Governor noted that it reflects a different view on mask-wearing, but he preaches that mask-wearing is a public health issue, not a political issue. He is not trying to punish people, but educate them on the public health benefits of mask-wearing.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha: Medical Director for Immunizations Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • If a majority of Arkansans wore facemasks, it would greatly reduce the transmission of COVID-19. However, it takes a whole community working together.
  • Asked about COVID-19 tests, Dr. Dillaha stated that the test ADH uses looks for the actual presence of COVID-19’s genetic material. If you test positive, the virus is present.  A blood test for antibodies shows that you have potentially recovered, but it is not a useful test for clinical decisions, because it is only effective one to three weeks after recovery. The previous nasal swab was both very uncomfortable, but also required extensive PPE wearing by healthcare workers. The newer nasal swab can actually have the patient collect the sample. The Abbott test, while useful if you need to know if one person is infected, is not particularly useful for large-scale testing.

 

 

6/17/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 415 additional cases since yesterday, June 17, for a total of 13,606 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 415 cases, 35 were from a correctional facility and 380 were from community settings. There are now 4,413 active cases, with 676 in correctional facilities, 147 in nursing homes and 3,590 in the community. There have been 8,996 recoveries. Total deaths—197. There are 217 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 53 on ventilators.

 

7,514 tests were performed yesterday. 80,105 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The chart below provides a somewhat different look at the trends related to COVID-19 in Arkansas than we have presented previously. The blue line is the same seven-day rolling average of the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 that we have been using in this update for several weeks. The green line is a seven-day rolling average of the number of tests performed each day. We present this new graph because many Arkansans wonder if the rise in the number of positive cases is related to increased testing. You see some justification for this conclusion in the similarity of the trend lines. What is not presented in this graph is the trend in the cumulative number of cases in the state. Going forward, we will rotate which data we present with the rolling average of new cases. 

 

The seven-day testing average data reflects the Arkansas Department of Health statistics whenever available. When data is unavailable, a mathematical adjustment has been made to reflect estimated testing on that day. 

 

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  •     Tomorrow’s press conference will be held in Fort Smith.
  •     The Governor showed a new slide with the seven-day rolling average of positive cases, which has been flat for several weeks.
  •     The Governor announced a plan to reopen long-term care facilities (LTCF), including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and DHS facilities, effective July 1. The Governor noted that there has been an emotional risk for families and residents beyond the risk of COVID-19. The facilities must complete testing by July 1, and each facility must comply with DHS guidelines before they reopen. Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) will close facilities for visitation if cases are present, so there is a strong incentive to ensure compliance.
  •     Asked about the White House guidance which has reopening LTCF in Phase III, the Governor noted that this was the right step because they were ahead of schedule on testing, sufficient protocols are in place, and there is a low positivity rate in the facilities.
  •     Regarding a Fayetteville ordinance requiring mask-wearing, the Governor said he understands where their heart is on the matter, but he would prefer that cities not take this step. He noted that there is conflict between the Fayetteville ordinance and state executive orders. He does not anticipate taking action against Fayetteville for its ordinance but may have to evaluate if other cities begin enacting mask-wearing ordinances. He wants cities to coordinate with the state before enacting ordinances to avoid a hodgepodge of different requirements. 
  •     In response to a New Yorker article that was critical of Arkansas’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak at Cummins Prison, the Governor noted that the New Yorker did not reach out to him. Instead, the New Yorker submitted 60 questions to the Department of Corrections, which responded. He does not believe the New Yorker used all the information provided, trying to paint a negative picture of Arkansas’s prisons as something out of the 1960’s, not recognizing the reforms that have been made to the prison system. 
  •     Asked about Dr. Patterson, the Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, wanting additional policies to be implemented due to concerns about a shortage of hospital capacity in the fall, the Governor said he speaks regularly with Dr. Patterson and other hospital administrators and believes they have sufficient policies in place to ensure hospital capacity.  
  •     The Governor hopes to have a contract in place for expanded contact tracing by early July.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  •     ADH worked closely with the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Arkansas Health Care Association to come up with strict criteria designed to keep LTCF residents safe while allowing very important human interaction.  
  •     The CDC is in Northwest Arkansas today, meeting with minority communities and doing a deeper analysis of the situation. They are also meeting with the Missouri Department of Health, so there can be a unified approach. 
  •     Dr. Smith does not believe ADH is behind on contact tracing. It can be difficult to reach some individuals, so those that say they have not been contacted may have just not responded. They track their performance internally, on a 5-day basis after notification.
  •     Regarding transmission from asymptomatic individuals, ADH has not been seeing secondary cases when physical distancing is practiced and masks are worn. ADH has found that transmission is unlikely if ADH guidelines are followed. 
  •     In response to an increase in cases in the Washington and Benton County Jails, Dr. Smith said ADH is proactively screening the inmates and rapidly responding to prevent additional cases.

Rachel Bunch: Executive Director of the Arkansas Health Care Association (AHCA)

  •     AHCA is dedicated to reopening carefully and adjusting when necessary. Visitation will not look the same, so LTCF are adapting their space and educating staff.
  •     Bunch shared that residents are looking forward to family visits and community dining, among other activities.

Jerry Sharum: Director of the Division of Provider Services and Quality Assurance

  •     Only a 1/3 of LTCF have active cases, and the positivity rate is less than 1% after 14,000 tests this month. 80% of the cases have been at 12% of facilities.
  •     The data is indicating a targeted intervention can work, so reopening will be on a facility by facility basis, and by facility type. If cases arise, they will be addressed on an individual basis.
  •     Visitor screening will be more vigorous than the current screening for other facilities.

 

 

6/16/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 274 additional cases since yesterday, June 15, for a total of 13,191 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Total deaths—188. There are 214 hospitalized patients, a new peak.

 

4,175 tests were performed yesterday. 72,244 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed. Over 6% of the state’s population has been tested since March 11, for a total of 208,000 tests.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Today’s press conference was held in Hot Springs, located in Garland County. The Governor shared a photo of a concert at Magic Springs as an example of a safe way to have a concert. The aerial photo showed individuals spread out over the venue.
  • The Governor said the hospital administrator he met with today indicated they have sufficient capacity. The Governor showed a slide for the Central Region of Arkansas, which includes Hot Springs, demonstrating that the region is averaging 40 hospitalizations daily.
  • The Governor showed a slide with growth rates by age ranges. The highest growth rate was in the 0-17 age range, which the Governor said is good news, because those individuals are more likely to be asymptomatic and their recovery rate is extremely high.
  • The Governor provided a final slide, showing that in June, 13,000 tests have been done in nursing homes, with 113 positives, a 0.9% positivity rate. 150 facilities have been tested, and 250 facilities remain to be tested. The state is on track to complete the testing this month. The Governor anticipates making an announcement regarding a nursing home reopening timeline tomorrow.
  • Asked about the continued increase in Northwest Arkansas cases, the Governor expressed concern with the over 10% infection rate. Cases in Benton and Washington Counties have been way too high, showing there is community spread. The state will continue to study the data. He noted a targeted response could be appropriate if a venue is showing a high-level of positive cases.
  • Responding to a question about state employees being provided notice last Wednesday that they would be required to return to work yesterday, the Governor indicated that individual cabinet secretaries had flexibility to address returning to work.
  • Asked about a big jump in cases in school-age children, and whether it would impact school in the fall, the Governor said the state cannot afford to have a limited commitment to education. The state has a plan, and is working with school districts to ensure there is a healthy environment for learning in the fall.
  • In regards to those without insurance that become impacted by COVID-19, the Governor acknowledged there is a gap, and local health departments could be of assistance in helping with treatment options.
  • In response to a question about people not wearing masks, the Governor spoke that perhaps there is a political taint nationally to mask-wearing, but it could just be human nature. He spoke of supporting those businesses that do the right thing by following the healthcare guidance and requiring it in their establishments.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha: Medical Director for Immunizations Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha: Medical Director for Immunizations at Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)
  • Dr. Dillaha provided details on the case totals by age range.
  •  13,191 total cases
    • 0-17 Age Range: 1,357 cases, or 10% of the total cases.
    • 18-24 Age Range: 1,469 cases, or 11% of the total cases.
    • 25-44 Age Range: 5,012 cases, or 38% of the total cases.
    • 45-64 Age Range:  3,840 cases, or 29% of the total cases.
    • 65+ Age Range: 1,512 cases, or 12% of the total cases.
  • 134 of the 188 deaths, or 71% of the deaths, involve those over the age of 65.
  • Dr. Dillaha said many of the state’s deaths are from long term care facilities. She is really pleased with the efforts to test all the facilities, so a process can be implemented for reopening. She knows the restrictions provide a great hardship for the residents.
  • Dr. Dillaha indicated that there can be a gap between the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) receiving a death certificate and when it is recorded as a COVID-19 death, in response to a question about coroners in Northwest Arkansas reporting higher deaths than what ADH has reported. She was unfamiliar with the situation in Northwest Arkansas, and if there is a discrepancy, it could cause the death count to rise.

Mike Preston: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce (DOC)

  • In positive news, it appears that the state’s economy is slowly bouncing back.
  • Statewide, the Department of Commerce is seeing a leveling off of unemployment claims and they are moving in the right direction. Claims have gone down the last four weeks, from 122,000 to 106,000. 32,000 individuals are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
  • Secretary Preston mentioned that three unemployment requirements were waived when the Governor declared an emergency: a week-long waiting period, filing in person, and a work search requirement. After June 30, the work search requirement will resume for those receiving unemployment benefits. It will be the same process as before and can be done online.

 

 

6/15/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 416 additional cases since yesterday, June 14, for a total of 12,917 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 416 cases, 26 were from a correctional facility and 390 were from community settings. There are now 4,383 active cases. There have been 8,352 recoveries. Total deaths—182. There are 206 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 45 on ventilators.

 

7,063 tests were performed yesterday. 68,069 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor announced there will not be a special legislative session to address business and healthcare liability associated with COVID-19. The Governor, flanked by members of the House and Senate, indicated that the majority of members wanted to address liability concerns in a special session, but recognized the timing was not right given the issues surrounding COVID-19. Members determined that the best route to provide assistance to businesses and healthcare workers concerned about potential liability was through the use of executive order.
  • Details regarding the EOs are as follows:
    • Business Liability
      • All businesses and their employees shall be immune from civil liability as a result of exposure to COVID-19.
      • Immunity does not apply to willful, reckless or intentional misconduct.
      • A presumption that the actions are not willful or reckless if the business owner substantially complies with public health directives.
      • Immunity begins effective immediately.
    • Medical Immunity
      • Healthcare workers and providers are authorized to use crisis standards of care to treat COVID-19 patients.
      • Healthcare emergency workers are immune from civil liability.
  • The Governor indicated that cases will continue to rise, and this very well could be the first peak versus a second peak.
  • The Chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Committee has reviewed the EOs. The EO is important because there is an infectious disease exemption that disallows workers’ compensation claims, and this would address that issue.
  • Asked why the state would provide additional immunity, the Governor said the goal is for businesses to not worry about lawsuits, as this can have a chilling effect. He noted that there have been scores of cases filed around the country against businesses associated with COVID-19 cases, but he was unaware of any cases filed in Arkansas.
  • In response to a question about why individuals should feel comfortable going back to businesses if businesses need liability protection, the Governor noted that there are two messages. We have to go back to living our lives and carry on doing business, but you can best do that by following public health guidelines. Those messages are complimentary. This helps incentivize businesses to follow CDC and Arkansas Department of Health guidelines.
  • The Governor, asked whether the message was still to flatten the curve, said that message was important initially because the infrastructure for responding to COVID-19 was not in place in the early phases of responding to COVID-19. While there is more infrastructure now, the primary goal now is to avoid cases by protecting yourself and others.
  • The Governor recognized that some people will view the message that we need to get back to business as meaning that there is no risk associated with COVID-19, which is not what he intends.
  • The Governor responded to a question about the end date for the EO, by saying the end of the pandemic is the end date of the EO.
  • The Governor will be in Hot Springs tomorrow, June 16.

Representative Matthew Shepherd: Speaker of the House

  • Speaker Shepherd noted lawmakers wanted to accomplish two things: provide liability protection and address certain limitations in the state’s workers’ compensation laws. The Speaker said that if it is determined that the EOs do not adequately address the issues, the legislature could come back at another time to address them. The goal is to allow businesses to reopen, and the ones that make the right efforts to follow the guidelines should have their fears of litigation minimized.
  • The Speaker noted that the EO does not provide for absolute immunity. He elaborated that Arkansas law provides several instances where immunity is provided because of a compelling public policy, and there is a compelling public policy at stake here.
  • Asked about a special session, the Speaker said timing is key, but nothing is imminent.

Senator Jim Hendren: President Pro Tempore of the Senate

  • Senator Hendren said the motivation behind the EO was to provide businesses with protection from excessive fear of lawsuits. This is not blanket immunity for bad actors. Businesses that comply in good faith with the state’s guidance should be provided assurances they will not face lawsuits. The EOs are not retroactive. It was determined that the existing workers’ compensation laws did not sufficiently provide opportunities for workers as it relates to COVID-19, so an EO could provide assistance for individuals stricken by COVID-19 at work.
  • Senator Hendren noted that the state and businesses were in unchartered territory. Businesses have been decimated, and for small businesses doing their best, lawsuits associated with COVID-19 could be the last nail in their coffin.
  • Senator Hendren said there is always the possibility of another special session in 2020, but the legislature is nowhere close to having one anytime soon.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at the ADH

  • There continues to be no linkage at this time between increased cases and reopened activities.
  • The CDC is looking at the cases in Northwest Arkansas and attempting to find links between them, as well as, reaching out to minority communities on COVID-19 prevention messaging. He is aware of a positive case at the Benton County Jail and measures are being put in place to ensure the safety of those in the jail.
  • Dr. Romero clarified that Dr. Jennifer Dillaha’s quote in a news article stating that increased cases are due to workplace restriction easing was a misquote.

 

 

6/12/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 731 additional cases since yesterday, June 11, for a total of 11,547 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 731 cases, 207 were from a correctional facility and 524 were from community settings. There are now 3,764 active cases, a new peak, with 402 in correctional facilities, 144 in nursing homes and 3,218 in the community. There have been 7,607 recoveries. Total deaths—171. There are 203 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 49 on ventilators.

 

5,591 tests were performed yesterday. 50,654 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed. There have been a total of 182,645 tests performed, with a positivity rate of 6.2%.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor noted that Dr. Smith could not attend the daily press conference, and joked that he was not self-quarantining, but had previous obligations.
  • 207 cases occurred at the East Arkansas Regional Correctional Facility in Lee County. 199 of the 524 community cases were Tyson Foods employees. Tyson Foods, located in Springdale, tested all 1,202 team members in a facility in Washington County. Of those 199 positive cases, only one was symptomatic.
  • On a day with a record number of cases, the Governor provided an overview of the CDC guidance on what can be done to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Governor highlighted the need to wear face coverings to protect others.
  • The Governor announced that due to the large increase in cases, he has authorized 20 National Guard members to assist the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) with contact tracing. Additionally, an RFQ for contact tracers has been accelerated.
  • Though the Governor expects cases to increase, he does not have second thoughts about entering Phase II. There remains no indication of a connection between lifting restrictions and the increase in cases.
  • Hospitals in Northwest Arkansas have surge capacity plans in case there is a rapid increase in hospitalizations. ADH is making contingency plans in case there becomes a hospital capacity shortage.
  • The Governor’s Medical Advisory Board made the decision to enter Phase II based on data and science.
  • The Governor will not mandate mask-wearing. He does not think it is enforceable or realistic. He did note that mask-wearing is important, and there is a mandate for those in licensed facilities, such as restaurants, to wear masks under certain circumstances
  • Individuals should not have concerns about traveling around the state of Arkansas. Asked by a relative in Northwest Arkansas whether they should self-isolate, he said no, just take precautions.
  • Asked if the state would be in a better place if it had implemented a shelter-in-place, the Governor said no. He did say that everyone should think about that question. He noted that even states that did implement a shelter-in-place still had spikes in cases after the shelter-in-place. He said at some point, like in California, you just have to open up because citizens would not live with the restrictions anymore.
  • Asked if contact tracers were behind in tracing because of the large increase in cases, the Governor said contact tracers can get stretched thin when you have a large increase in cases. However, resources are being applied to reduce that strain.
  • Regarding how to change the case increase trajectory, the Governor indicated that the state’s strategy is good, but may not be executing well enough. Noting that he would like to go on economic development trips this fall, he said it is tough to plan because there is no telling what will happen by then.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at the ADH

  • Dr. Romero stated that there have been 1,353 cases associated with the poultry industry, with 682 active cases.
  • Dr. Romero noted that in less than 1% of the cases, the individual was symptomatic.
  • Of the COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, 21.2% have been from the Latinx community and 6.2% from the Marshallese community.

 

 

6/11/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 448 additional cases since yesterday, June 10, for a total of 10,816 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 448 cases, four were from a correctional facility and 444 were from community settings.  There are now 3,294 active cases, a new peak, with 199 in correctional facilities, 140 in nursing homes and 2,955 in the community.  There have been 7,351 recoveries.  Total deaths—171.  There are 187 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 45 on ventilators.

 

4,914 tests were performed yesterday.  45,063 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Northwest Arkansas continues to lead in the daily case count, with over 220 of the 444 community cases coming from Washington and Benton Counties.  93% of the cases in Washington County came from one city, Springdale.  The Governor has been reassured that the hospital capacity and PPE supply are sufficient in Northwest Arkansas.
  • Asked about a letter from a hospital in Washington County saying that the increase in cases and hospitalizations is not merely due to increased testing, the Governor said it was very thoughtful and well-timed, and they are absolutely right.  The Governor stated that while the state moved to Phase II, it is a reminder that there can be serious consequences associated with COVID-19. Asked if the letter gave him pause, he said he was grateful for the letter, but the decision to enter Phase II was correct.  Regardless of what occurs in the next week as far as cases and hospitalizations, COVID-19 will be with us into next year, so we must manage the risk and not incur any additional damage to people’s lives.
  • In response to a question about his thoughts on 32% of Arkansans thinking Phase II was entered into too quickly, the Governor wants them to know the state followed the data and the science, is being careful and taking the matter seriously.  They will continue to provide information so Arkansans can make good decisions.
  • Asked why the state did not take a regional approach to Phase II, the Governor said that a regional approach locked the state into an approach that would be difficult to move from.
  • Asked if he would take action to reduce cases and hospitalizations, the Governor said they would examine their options if they find a correlation between the data on restrictions and hospitalizations and new cases. However, there has been no correlation between reopened activities and additional cases.
  • In response to a question about a potential special session, the Governor said there are no plans yet for one.
  • Responding to a question about whether there was anything that would keep school from occurring in the fall, the Governor said he did not want to set specific benchmarks or projections, as we do not know what the COVID-19 environment will be like in August, which is 60 days from now. The state will learn from summer day camps in their efforts to prepare for school in the fall.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The new cases continue to come from the Latinx community, household clustering, and clusters in the workplace, particularly those associated with the poultry industry.   The CDC is arriving tomorrow and will assist with Latinx messaging, and provide new Arkansas specific insights.  Dr. Smith said that they are getting the message out to the Latinx community, but it takes a while to pull the cases back.
  • Opening up schools will be a challenge.  Schools were closed appropriately, and as they have gained experience and information, ADH continues to develop a plan to ensure student safety in the fall.
  • Dr. Smith said the reason he advised the Governor to move to Phase II was because the state had already moved to Phase II in many areas where they were not seeing active cases, so there was no compelling reason to stay in Phase I.

Dr. Ivy Pfeffer: Deputy Commissioner, Division of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE)

  • ADE has learned a great deal since the COVID-19 pandemic began and will adapt to student needs as it plans for the fall.
  • ADE has an Arkansas Ready for Learning plan.  It is an achievable goal that provides flexibility if issues occur in the fall.  It will be important for parents and students to engage with schools.  Local school districts will be strongly encouraged to have local planning committees to plan for the safest return possible.
  • School districts should ensure the ADH protocols are met, and work with local education cooperatives to purchase PPE.
  • ADE recognizes that parents may have concerns, so they will work with local school districts to ensure appropriate support and options are provided.  There may be a need to pivot, so ADE will provide resources and guidance so each local school district and community can be prepared.

 

 

6/10/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 288 additional cases since yesterday, June 9, for a total of 10,368 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 288 cases, 60 were from a correctional facility and 228 were from community settings.  There are now 3,087 active cases, with 199 in correctional facilities, 138 in nursing homes and 2,750 in the community.  There have been 7,116 recoveries.  Total deaths—165.  There are 181 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 49 on ventilators.

 

4,420 tests were performed yesterday.  37,907 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The chart below provides a somewhat different look at the trends related to COVID-19 in Arkansas than we have presented previously. The blue line is the same seven-day rolling average of the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 that we have been using in this update for several weeks. The green line is a seven-day rolling average of the number of tests performed each day. We present this new graph because many Arkansans wonder if the rise in the number of positive cases is related to increased testing. You see some justification for this conclusion in the similarity of the trend lines. What is not presented in this graph is the trend in the cumulative number of cases in the state. Going forward, we will rotate which data we present with the rolling average of new cases.

 

The seven-day testing average data reflects the Arkansas Department of Health statistics whenever available. When data is unavailable, a mathematical adjustment has been made to reflect estimated testing on that day.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor announced that Arkansas would enter Phase II on Monday, June 15.  The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) will publish guidelines by Friday, June 12. The rationale was that Arkansas has for the most part entered Phase II, specifically travel, sports, large venues, and elective surgeries all being allowed with certain restrictions.  The main impact will be that businesses or events that have restrictions on size, for instance, 1/3 capacity caps, will be authorized to go to 2/3 capacity, while following the public health guidance.  This will impact restaurants, gyms, and salons, among other businesses.  The Governor ultimately concluded that the state is best served moving together, despite regional spikes.  The Governor will continue his executive order declaring a public emergency for an additional 45 days.
  • The Governor reiterated that Arkansas’s increase in cases has not been a result of lifting restrictions, as businesses are taking precautions and following ADH’s guidance.
  • The Governor elaborated that the federal gating criteria is based upon peaks in cases, like what has been seen in New York and Louisiana, versus what has been seen in Arkansas.  Also, the gating criteria is not sacrosanct.  He made an analogy that Arkansas is like the Ozarks, with multiple smaller peaks, and certain locations have had one large peak, like the Rockies.
  • To better constrain the virus, the state will be providing additional public health support and contact tracing for Benton and Washington Counties.  The CDC will be sending four to five bilingual staff for the Latinx community in Northwest Arkansas.
  • State employees have received notice that beginning June 15, when the state enters Phase II, with limited telework flexibility, state employees will begin returning to the office.
  • The Governor expects schools to reopen in the Fall, but the details remain a work in progress.  The plan involves a blended teaching environment, with online instruction utilization.  One issue, in particular, that will require additional work is student transportation.
  • The Governor is eager to get to Phase III, but it is a gradual process.  He wants to let businesses get experience and for ADH to follow the data.  He said COVID-19 is too serious not to take it a step at a time.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith showed a slide with the rate of active COVID-19 positive cases in the community by county.  The counties with the highest percentages, over 30 cases per 10,000 individuals, were Sevier, Yell, and Washington Counties.
  • Dr. Smith said the state had taken steps to protect the most vulnerable populations, hence the low death rate in Arkansas.
  • Dr. Smith is not expecting a big jump in cases from entering Phase II.  He said you would have expected a jump, if there was going to be one, going from 0% to 1/3% capacity, but that has not occurred.
  • In response to a question about whether COVID-19 is not as communicable as anticipated, Dr. Smith said it was, but what they have learned is how to minimize the spread by putting protective measures into place.  Dr. Smith mentioned that ADH has had employees test positive for COVID-19, but there has not been additional office transmission.  Cleaning is important, but limiting opportunities for people to breathe the same air over a long period of time is more important.
  • The state still needs more blood donations.  The Arkansas Blood Institute has announced they will screen all blood donated for antibodies.
  • There has been a case increase associated with children, but they appear to be from the home environment, not clusters of children infecting other children.  ADH will watch this closely this summer with summer camps.
  • ADH’s contact tracing procurement includes a request for information on how the applicant will recruit bilingual contact tracers.

Dr. Greg Bledsoe: Arkansas Surgeon General

  • Dr. Bledsoe believes that a good plan has been put in place for entering Phase II.  He’s glad that a structure will remain in place during Phase II, to allow for restriction easing, but with ADH guidance.

 

 

6/9/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 340 additional cases since yesterday, June 8, for a total of 10,080 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 340 cases, 34 were from a correctional facility and 306 were from community settings.  There are now 3,044 active cases, with 139 in correctional facilities, 141 in nursing homes and 2,764 in the community.  There have been 6,875 recoveries.  Total deaths—161.  There are 173 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 44 on ventilators.

 

4,849 tests were performed yesterday.  33,711 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1.  The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day.  This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction.  The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives published today, June 9.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor held two press conferences today.  At the first press conference, the Governor announced a task force on advancing the state of law enforcement in Arkansas, in response to concerns that have been raised following the death of George Floyd.  The Governor said a recurring theme he has heard is improving law enforcement training as well as law enforcement understanding and accountability on racial issues.  He knows that the most important thing for law enforcement is trust and integrity, and the trust has been undermined by Mr. Floyd’s death. The Governor wants to ensure there is the right accountability for law enforcement officers.
  • The Governor made clear his support for law enforcement, and that this task force will not address defunding law enforcement.  He said it’s always a fair discussion to talk about allocation of resources, to enhance law enforcement to make sure they are better trained and there is adequate accountability.
  • There has been no comprehensive review of standards and accountability for Arkansas law enforcement in 45 years.
  • The Governor mentioned that in 1996, six officers were decertified because of misconduct, while 40 were decertified last year.
  • The Governor wants the task force to reflect the community as well as have law enforcement involvement. He thinks there’s a good balance and dynamic for change.  The Governor noted that the Mayor of Pine Bluff will be on the task force.
  • Fred Weatherspoon, deputy director of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy, said that law enforcement are not trained on chokeholds.
  • The Governor mentioned that several protest leaders, who will be part of the task force, have provided him with a list of requests already prepared, and he’s glad that they are providing their perspective.
  • The Governor said that all options, such as funding, training, legislation, and executive action, will be discussed.
  • Today’s COVID-19 press conference was held in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
  • In his daily slides, the Governor showed that 694 tests per 10,000 individuals are being done in Southeast Arkansas, and 666 tests per 10,000 in Jefferson County, where Pine Bluff is located, versus 565 tests per 10,000 individuals statewide.  Southeast Arkansas is averaging around 30 hospitalizations.
  • The Governor said he plans an announcement regarding the state entering Phase II tomorrow.
  • Asked about a letter from Representative Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, in which Rep. Sullivan stated that Jonesboro was going to enter Phase II on Friday, with or without the Governor’s support, the Governor said he gets letters from the other side as well, saying that the current Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) directives are not restrictive enough.  The Governor said he is trying to make the best possible decisions based on public health guidance.  Asked what the repercussions would be if businesses decide to enter Phase II in defiance of an ADH directive, the Governor said it could jeopardize their license.
  • In response to a question about whether he expected the second wave to be as large as it is, the Governor said no.  He said the quickness surprised him, as his expectation was that there could be a second wave this fall.  The Governor mentioned that surrounding states are currently experiencing a second wave of cases.
  • Asked if there was any update on the progress regarding the return of sports, the Governor said the reports he receives are that coaches and athletic directors are being careful to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith broke down the statistics to make them more specific to Southeast Arkansas and Jefferson County.
    • In Southeast Arkansas:
      • There have been 2,580 cases, with 771 in community and 1809 in correctional facilities.
      • There are 257 active cases, with 148 active community cases, and 109 in correctional facilities.
      • There have been 44 deaths, with 32 in community and 12 from correctional facilities.
    • In Jefferson County:
      • There have been 559 cases, with 320 in the community and 239 in correctional facilities.
      • There are 52 active cases, with 41 in the community and 11 in correctional facilities.
      • There have been 28 deaths, with 27 in community and one in a correctional facility.
  • Jefferson County saw a large number of deaths in the beginning of the pandemic because of a large number of nursing homes cases.

 

 

6/8/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 314 additional cases since yesterday, June 7, for a total of 9,740 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 314 cases, 13 were from a correctional facility and 301 were from community settings.  There are now 2,955 active cases, with 106 in correctional facilities, 139 in nursing homes and 2,710 in the community.

 

There have been 6,630 recoveries.  Total deaths—155.  There are 171 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 46 on ventilators.

 

4,131 tests were performed yesterday, with a positivity rate of 4.5%.  Overall, the positivity rate is 6%.  28,862 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1.  The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day.  This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction.  The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives announced today.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor confirmed he has deactivated the Arkansas National Guard (ANG) after consultation with the Arkansas State Police (ASP) and the ANG Adjunct General.  The Executive Order (EO) creating a command structure headed by the ASP remains in place, but the number of law enforcement units deployed is being reduced.
  • The Governor anticipates issuing an EO regarding formation of a task force dealing with law enforcement policy, training, and certification and standards, at an 11 a.m. (CST) press conference tomorrow.  He said he has held very productive meetings with protest leaders, noting they have articulated the message that they have not been a part of the destructive activities that occurred.
  • The Governor noted the positivity rate is a very important data point for him, but that the figures are not final until up to 48 hours after they are initially announced.
  • Northwest Arkansas continues to lead Arkansas in the number of daily positive cases, with Washington and Benton Counties having over 120 cases yesterday, June 7.
  • The Governor announced that he is not prepared to implement a Phase II regional approach, but he will continue to evaluate the data to determine whether it can become a possibility in the future, or if other options are needed.
  • The Governor expressed the following six principles: the five public health regions are all at different stages of COVID-19 impact; future spread is not predictable; the data shows cases are not related to lifting of restrictions; increased testing shines a light on the challenges faced in responding to COVID-19; self-discipline and social-discipline must be exercised; and the economy must continue re-opening.
  • Asked if the increase in cases is because of Arkansans letting their guard down, the Governor said by and large no.  While there will always be people that do not want to follow public health guidance, he believes social distancing and mask-wearing is more predominant now than 30 days ago.
  • The state has not identified any new cases associated with the protests, however, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) will trace the cases from the weekend and see what the data indicates.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • ADH does not see a relationship between the large increase in cases and reopening businesses and other activities.  Dr. Smith mentioned that 2% of infected individuals have reported visiting a restaurant, 1% a barbershop, 1% church, and less than 1% report having gone to a gym or hotel in the last 14 days.
  • Dr. Smith said that while 26 additional hospitalizations are concerning and quite an increase, the state’s hospitals are nowhere near capacity.  He will check with hospitals to ensure no individual hospital becomes taxed due to an increase in patients.  If an individual hospital becomes overwhelmed, they can always transfer patients.
  • Asked if protestors need to be tested, Dr. Smith said anyone who feels like they may be at risk should get tested.  Contact tracing will be more difficult for tracing cases associated with protests, but ADH will do their best.  Dr. Smith said that COVID-19 seems to spread fastest in congregate settings, and individuals are less apt to get infected in casual settings, like grocery stores or workplaces that have put protective measures in place.  ADH does not gather information on whether infected individuals wore a mask, because of the discrepancies in how and when individuals wear masks.
  • Dr. Smith said it is difficult to say that the increase in cases in the past week is due to Memorial Day activities because there has been a prolonged increase in cases, not one bump.
  • Asked about the effectiveness of Remdesivir, Dr. Smith said he has no Arkansas-specific information, but the studies do seem to indicate it reduces the length of hospitalizations for infected patients.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force (AERTF)

  • The AERTF continues to meet and will prepare another report this month.  The AERTF heard from an economist today, and the message appears to be that broadly, Arkansas small businesses have disproportionately suffered the brunt of the impact from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.  However, on balance, Arkansas has handled its economic recovery better than many states.

 

 

6/5/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 226 additional cases since yesterday, June 4, for a total of 8,651 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—152.  There are 147 hospitalized patients, with 32 on ventilators.

 

3,846 tests were performed yesterday, with a positivity rate of 3.1%.  16,045 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1.  The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day.  This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction.  The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives announced today.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Governor Hutchinson noted that the new average number of cases per day is approximately mid-200s, despite a couple days of spikes. The Governor highlighted that the last 20 days have seen less than a 10% daily infection rate, with only one day in the last 40 with over a 10% daily infection rate.
  • The Governor highlighted ADH’s contact tracing efforts from the 190 cases reported on June 1. Of those 190, 144 were successfully contacted. Of those 144, ADH determined that 222 additional individuals were potentially exposed to COVID-19. Importantly, the Governor noted that ADH was able to link 115 individuals, or 60.5% of the infections, with the origination location. The Governor showed a slide of the state’s testing per 10,000 individuals by public health regions. They are as follows (missing county name accounts for the remaining percentages):
    • Northwest: 351.4 per 10,000 individuals;
    • Northeast: 427.2 per 10,000 individuals;
    • Central: 374.9 per 10,000 individuals;
    • Southwest: 325.6 per 10,000 individuals; and
    • Southeast: 585.2 per 10,000 individuals.
  • The Governor showed a slide of the number of tests by public health regions. They are as follows (missing county name accounts for the remaining percentages):
    • Northwest: 36,241 or 24% of the total tests;
    • Northeast: 23,619 or 15.6% of the total tests;
    • Central: 31,223 or 20.9% of the total tests;
    • Southwest: 10,430 or 6.9% of the total tests; and
    • Southeast: 14,827 or 9.8% of the total tests.
  • The Governor showed a slide of the number of tests performed today by public health regions. They are as follows (missing county name accounts for the remaining percentages):
    • Northwest: 1,326 or 34.5% of the total tests;
    • Northeast: 392 or 10.2% of the total tests;
    • Central: 813 or 21.1% of the total tests;
    • Southwest: 288 or 7.5% of the total tests; and
    • Southeast: 234 or 6.1% of the total tests.
  • The Governor stressed that the way to beat COVID-19 is to take public health precautions seriously every day while living life and managing risk. The Governor warned to not let down on your discipline and awareness of the damage that can be done by COVID-19.
  • Asked whether the population density in Northwest Arkansas was a factor in cases and hospitalizations, the Governor said population density is a factor. He has been assured by hospital administrators in Northwest Arkansas that they have sufficient capacity both for treating COVID-19 patients and continuing elective procedures.
  • Asked about the 17 individuals that tested positive on Monday but have not been contacted by a contact tracer, the Governor said he is satisfied with ADH’s efforts. The Governor did say the state needs to beef up its contact tracing program.
  • In response to a question about the City of Little Rock allowing expanded dining on sidewalks, the Governor said he supported restaurant industry efforts that are consistent with ADH’s public health guidelines. The Governor said he encourages efforts undertaken by restaurants that are consistent with Phase I guidelines.
  • Responding to a question about Tyson Foods implementing a formal attendance policy, the Governor said he has been in contact with industry leaders about their efforts to resume operations, while being mindful of the public health requirements. He is not concerned about companies going back to normal operations if they follow ADH guidelines. The Governor said he would be surprised if a company requires an employee to come to work, and not provide some form of paid sick leave, if the employee has COVID-19 or symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
  • Asked if the Arkansas National Guard (ANG) deployed to Harrison to provide support for local law enforcement, the Governor said no. He reiterated that the Arkansas State Police (ASP) works closely with local law enforcement and that most demonstrations have been peaceful. The ASP and other civilian resources are utilized first, and the ANG is utilized only if there is a strong need for their assistance.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith provided more details on the 190 positive cases from Monday. Of the 190 cases, two went to a barbershop or salon, one to a daycare, one to a gym, three to a healthcare provider, two to a hotel, and 39 were associated with the poultry industry. 19 have already recovered.
  • Asked if his contact tracers were overwhelmed, Dr. Smith acknowledged that ADH was handling the cases as best as they could, but were stretched. ADH will be training up to 100 volunteers next week. Additionally, ADH issued a Request for Qualifications today for an additional 350 contact tracers, along with everything needed for them to be effective. ADH hopes to have an entity identified to do the work within the next month or two.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha: Medical Director for Immunizations at Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Dillaha provided an overview of ADH’s contact tracing process.
  • A nurse reaches out to an infected individual and interviews them, asking when symptoms began. The nurse then goes back two days, as they can be asymptomatic or presymptomatic. If the individual is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms, the date of symptoms onset is assumed to be the date of the COVID-19 test. The nurse then learns details about the individual, such as their family history, where they are employed, and their social activity. The nurse is interested in who they have had close contact with, defined as within six feet of for at least 15 minutes. The contact tracer then systematically goes through and informs the infected individuals’ contacts of their probable exposure and of their need to quarantine to prevent spread. This lasts for 10 days after the onset of symptoms, and, assuming they do well (no fever for three days or they are not in the hospital), they can end their isolation. ADH wants contacts to remain isolated, even if asymptomatic, because the incubation period is 14 days. Contacts should get tested regardless of symptoms and remain quarantined even if they test negative. Contacts are monitored through an alert system, which notifies them if they need to get tested or go to the hospital. ADH has 240 staff working on contact tracing and is collaborating with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and other entities.

 

 

6/4/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 358 additional cases since yesterday, June 3, for a total of 8,425 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 358 cases, two were from a correctional facility and 356 were from community settings.  There are now 2,355 active cases, with 43 in correctional facilities, 93 in nursing homes and 2,217 in the community.  There have been 5,919 recoveries.  Total deaths—151.  There are 137 hospitalized patients, with 32 on ventilators.

 

4,350 tests were performed yesterday, with a positivity rate of 5.2%.  12,199 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1.  The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day.  This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction.  The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives announced today, June 4.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor began his press conference by recognizing this morning’s memorial service for George Floyd, and spoke of his appreciation for the life lived by George Floyd.
  • The Governor displayed his customary slides showing the seven-day rolling averages for the state’s five public health regions.  In foue of the five regions, the trend lines were flat or appeared to have peaked recently, while Northwest Arkansas was much higher than the rest of the regions.
  • Northwest Arkansas had the largest number of cases yesterday, 234, or 65.4% of the cases statewide.
  • The Governor discussed the Federal Government’s gating criteria for Phases I & II of reopening and stated he sensed most Americans are not paying attention to the federal gating criteria.  He did acknowledge that the gating criteria are just guidelines for states.  For the Governor, the most relevant gating criteria was that the state had a consistently low positivity rate, below the threshold set by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • The Governor said he was on a call today with business leaders who asked how the state could enter Phase II.  The Governor mentioned Phase II requires evidence of no rebounds or a satisfaction of the Phase I gating criteria a second time. The Governor does not necessarily consider the increase in cases in Northwest Arkansas a “rebound,” but rather a result of increased testing.
  • The Governor indicated the state was considering implementing Phase II at different times for different public health regions of the state, noting it would be hard to hold back regions that had met the Phase II criteria.  The Governor said he is balancing this idea with the realization that it would be hard to go back after entering a new phase.  The Governor noted that in early May, Northwest Arkansas thought it was ready to enter Phase II because of its low case count.  The Governor plans to make a decision next week.  Asked a follow-up question about the Governor’s previous preference for a statewide approach, the Governor said he is examining the issue now because it is important to get to Phase II, but he was not prepared to discuss details.
  • Asked about seven Arkansas State University (ASU) athletes testing positive, the Governor said he was not surprised since the athletes were coming from different places around the country.  The Governor indicated he saw a letter from ASU to students and other interested parties, and it was constructive on how the University is handling the matter.
  • In response to a question about whether he was concerned about protests leading to increased COVID-19 cases, the Governor said that while he has concerns, he has been impressed with the large percentage of protestors wearing face masks.  He does not want protestors to think we are back to normal, so they should maintain safety precautions.
  • The Governor said there are no plans for a special session.  He has not heard from the House of Representatives in a similar fashion as he heard from the Senate.  The Governor did say there would need to be a lot more work if there was going to be a special session, but he is still gathering information.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith didn’t know the specifics but said that five to six deaths of the nine deaths reported today, June 4, were from nursing home residents who had actually passed away on a previous date, but their deaths had not been reported.
  • Dr. Smith said Benton and Washington Counties in Northwest Arkansas had approximately 200 cases out of 358 cases yesterday, June 3.  Pulaski County and Sevier County saw a decrease yesterday.
  • Elaborating on the Governor’s discussion of Phase II, Dr. Smith said they are looking at restrictions carefully, because they know restrictions can not remain in place forever.  However, the restrictions have allowed for a manageable level of hospitalizations.
  • In response to the question about protestors potentially spreading COVID-19, Dr. Smith said it is possible to safely gather together to make a statement.  If protestors follow the ADH guidelines for large outdoor venues, then they will reduce the opportunity for spread.

 

 

6/3/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 249 additional cases since yesterday, June 2, for a total of 8,067 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 249 cases, four were from a correctional facility and 245 were from community settings.  There are now 2,208 active cases, with 55 in correctional facilities, 102 in nursing homes and 2,051 in the community.  There have been 5,717 recoveries.  Total deaths—142, with 55 from nursing home residents.  There are 138 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 30 on ventilators.

 

3,872 tests were performed yesterday, June 2, with a positivity rate of 4.8%.  7,717 tests out of the June goal of 120,000 have been performed.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1.  The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day.  This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction.  The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Before his Daily COVID-19 Press Conference, Governor Hutchinson discussed the Unified Law Enforcement Response (ULER) to protect peaceful protests.
  • The Governor emphasized that protestors across Arkansas did a great job of peacefully protesting last night, but as the evening progressed, certain individuals committed acts of violence and destruction of property, which will not be tolerated.
  • The Executive Order (EO) described above activated the National Guard.  The Governor said that the command structure within the EO recognizes the autonomy of the individual law enforcement agencies and their chains of command.  The goal is for the federal and state law enforcement agencies to work together to develop a plan, which goes out to the various agencies.  The Governor said he will lift the EO when it is determined there is no longer a significant risk to the health and safety of Arkansans.
  • The Governor said the tragic death of George Floyd has prompted us to look within ourselves to see if we need to do better.  The Governor said we must listen and improve as a society, and he personally wants to hear how we can do better.  He wants to ensure the state provides equal justice and no discriminatory legal action is taken.
  • The Governor mentioned that last night there was a combined force of nine law enforcement agencies (seven state and local agencies and two federal) that protected protestors and property.  He stated that the ULER acted with restraint, and only began to act when the violence began.
  • The Governor showed a rock, which he said was used as a weapon used against law enforcement, and a picture of a broken window at a local McDonald’s to demonstrate the destruction that required law enforcement action.  There were 79 arrests, all of them Arkansans.  While there were no arrests from individuals from out of state, the Governor did say that there was intelligence demonstrating those out of state influencers were in Arkansas to motivate and coordinate violent acts.
  • The Governor opened the COVID-19 portion of the press conference with a slide demonstrating that throughout the state, there are many more nursing homes without an infected staff member or resident than there are nursing homes with an infection.
  • The Governor mentioned that he testified virtually at a Congressional hearing with several Governors regarding their COVID-19 response efforts.  The testimony elicited information that Arkansas is doing very well compared to other states as it relates to keeping nursing home residents and staff safe.
  • The June goal of testing every nursing home resident and employee is to eventually ease restrictions, allowing for normal visitation of nursing home residents.  The Governor said that the tests will be paid for by private insurance, Medicaid, or CARES Act funding.  The state expects that there will be 16,000-18,000 tests of nursing home residents; 20,000-22,000 tests of nursing home staff; 6,000 tests of Alternative Living Facility resident tests; 5,000 tests for ALF staff; and 5,000 tests of residents and staff at Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) facilities.

Colonel Bill Bryant: Director of the Arkansas State Police (ASP)

  • Col. Bryant began by saying that his job as the ASP Director is to protect and serve. The ASP’s core values are integrity and character, and ASP shows dignity and respect to all they encounter.
  • Col. Bryant said the rock thrown through the McDonald’s window triggered last night’s action (June 2).  He would rather have voluntary compliance than confrontation, but they must ensure personnel safety and protect property.  He showed evidence of Molotov cocktail type devices, sprayers for accelerants and shell casings that he said demonstrated the seriousness of the threat to individuals and property.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The 249 new cases have shown an uptick of cases in Pulaski County, where Little Rock is located.
  • ADH will be using Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidance as nursing homes start to reopen, including screening visitors, mask-wearing, and designated areas for visits.
  • Asked about cases associated with reopened activity, Dr. Smith said they are tabulating that information twice a week, but less than 1% of cases are associated with a reopened activity.
  • In response to a question of where the case growth is coming from, Dr. Smith said ADH is seeing growth with individuals under the age of 25, the Latino community, Northwest and Southwest Arkansas, and the poultry industry.  Cases are occurring in households, community events and worksites.  Although worksites are the easiest of those locations to institute strict controls to limit the spread, there are still many cases associated with them.
  • Asked about correctional facility cases, Dr. Smith said there are no active large outbreaks in correctional facilities.  He also stated an inmate is considered recovered 14 days after testing positive unless they are hospitalized or there is a special situation.

Rachel Bunch: Executive Director of the Arkansas Health Care Association (AHCA)

  • Ms. Bunch mentioned a new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) portal providing data on nursing home residents and staff that demonstrates Arkansas’s nursing homes are performing better than the national average.  Ms. Bunch said that in Arkansas there have been 23.6 infections of nursing home residents per 1,000 residents, versus the national average of 62 per 1,000 residents.  There have been six deaths of nursing home residents per 1,000 residents in Arkansas, versus the national average of 27.5 per 1,000 residents.  There have been 13.9 infections of nursing home staff per 1,000 employees, versus the national average of 39.5 per 1,000 staff members.  Ms. Bunch said Arkansas has been very fortunate to have 0 nursing home staff deaths.
  • The reason for the testing initiative is so there can be a baseline for patients and staff infections, so AHCA and ADH can improve their decision making for reopening nursing homes.  They are close to a plan that is tied to testing results.  There will be an individual facility strategy, once testing is done, and depending on whether there are no infections, the facility can reopen with restrictions.

Cindy Gillespie: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS)

  • Secretary Gillespie said Human Development Centers (HDC) and the Arkansas Health Center (AHC) are notifying parents and guardians that COVID-19 testing will be occurring beginning next week.  Testing will occur June 9-11 at the AHC and June 15-17 at the HDC.  It is a large logistical exercise, but DHS has plans in place to ensure adequate care even if there is a large increase in positive cases, as the emphasis is keeping residents safe.

 

 

6/2/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 375 additional cases since yesterday, June 1, for a total of 7,818 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 375 cases, one was from a correctional facility and 374 were from community settings. This is the highest daily number for community spread cases. There are now 2,115 active cases, with 53 in correctional facilities, 73 in nursing homes and 1,989 in the community. There have been 5,567 recoveries. Total deaths—136. There are 132 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 31 on ventilators.

 

3,807 tests were performed yesterday, June 1, with a positivity rate of 4.4%. The Governor stated that the June testing goal is 120,000, with approximately 50,000 of those from nursing home residents and staff.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives announced today, June 2.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor began his press conference by discussing the State Revenue Report for May. The Governor stated that in May, collections were up $80 million over the revised forecast, and up $287 million year-to-date over the revised forecast. The state is 3.4% below state revenue collected last year. The Governor believed this was extraordinarily good based on their initial projections. He was delighted with state income tax collections and said the report indicated sales tax revenue demonstrated confidence in economic recovery. The Governor stated there are decisions to make based on the revenue report, such as evaluating agency needs and whether to “loosen their belts.”
  • Discussing the protests in Arkansas relating to the death of George Floyd, the Governor said that the protests were peaceful up until about 10 p.m., which he appreciates, but then it turned violent, which is intolerable. The Governor is committed to peaceful protest. The Governor believes law enforcement have done a very good job of protecting protestors, while also enforcing the rule of law and protecting property. The Governor was at the Arkansas State Police’s command center last night. Being there taught him the complexity of the decisions that law enforcement must make: sometimes what you think may be the right decision could lead to a confrontation or escalation in violence. The Arkansas State Police arrested five people, all Arkansans.
  • The Governor showed a picture of a protest in Bentonville, Arkansas, where the Governor previously practiced law. The picture showed protestors not social distancing but wearing masks, which he said shows they are taking COVID-19 seriously.
  • The Governor said the spike in cases reflects a dramatic increase in testing. He and Dr. Smith will be doing a deeper dive to better understand the numbers.
  • In response to a question about whether there was a relationship between the protestors’ message and COVID-19’s impact on minority communities, the Governor stressed he is not in a position to speak for all the protestors. However, he did say that he has spoken to protestors, and while the death of George Floyd is an obvious source of anger, it goes deeper. It can involve concerns over the lack of access to good healthcare in minority communities. The Governor mentioned the work of the minority health commission, which works to remediate healthcare disparities in minority communities, and the state’s investment in minority healthcare and responding to COVID-19 in minority communities.
  • Asked about statements from President Trump, the Governor has not requested military resources from the Federal Government to respond to protests and does not anticipate doing so in the future. The Governor stated the state had received a preliminary inquiry for Arkansas National Guard resources, but no official request.
  • The Governor reiterated that Phase II is on pause for now, because it would not be appropriate until they have more data demonstrating a decrease in cases and hospitalizations. Asked about regional restrictions or lifting of restrictions, the Governor said the lesson is a low case count today does not mean there will be a low case count tomorrow.
  • The Governor said the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance website is functioning well and securely, continuing to push money out and approve applicants. However, he has not received any additional information from law enforcement regarding the data breach.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Cases from Northwest Arkansas and Sevier County, in Southwest Arkansas, continue to drive the case totals. 29 cases in Pulaski County were at a nursing home in Jacksonville. Five of the 136 deaths are from the Latino community.
  • The June goal of testing 120,000 Arkansans was commended by ADH’s federal partners and Dr. Smith believes the state is on a good pace to meet its goal.
  • Asked about the change in percentages from when they are reported to the graphs shown by the Governor, Dr. Smith said what he reports daily is often not finalized, but he and the Governor want to provide the most recent numbers at the press conferences. There are often adjustments that must be made when all the numbers come in for the day.
  • Dr. Smith was asked if he was concerned about the spread of COVID-19 due to protests. He said if protestors were not social distancing or wearing masks, it would be tragic for a protestor to protest an injustice but then contract COVID-19. He said it is challenging to do contact tracing for people who have taken part in protests.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at ADH

  • Dr. Romeo spoke about the COVID-19 Latinx Stakeholder Group, which has been meeting since the beginning of May. Their primary goal is to communicate the significance of COVID-19 to the Latino community in Spanish to make them aware of how to avoid its spread and to bring awareness of the accessibility of testing. The Stakeholder Group is preparing videos and texts in Spanish.

 

 

6/1/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 190 additional cases since yesterday, May 31, for a total of 7,443 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 190 cases, three were from correctional facilities and 187 were from community settings. This includes six healthcare workers, six nursing home residents and eight nursing home workers. There are now 1,909 active cases, with 53 in correctional facilities, 78 in nursing homes and 1,778 in the community. There have been 5,401 recoveries. Total deaths—133. There are 121 hospitalized patients, with 26 on ventilators.

 

3,798 tests were performed yesterday, May 31, with a positivity rate of 6%. Overall, over 80,808 tests were done in May.

 

The below chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives issued today, June 1.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor held his daily press conference in Rogers at Mercy Hospital. While in Northwest Arkansas, the Governor discussed the large increase in cases with leaders from the Marshallese and Latino communities, as well as some poultry industry leaders.
  • The Governor mentioned that one of the purposes of meeting with the minority communities in Northwest Arkansas was to determine how he and Dr. Smith could best communicate their message. It was relayed to the Governor the importance of social media and influencers to those populations. Their trusted officials could be their doctor or priest, instead of the Governor. The Governor noted that the state wants to ensure that the minority communities understand that the tests are free, but he did note that sometimes healthcare costs can be an impediment to good healthcare.
  • The Governor addressed the protests that have ensued in Arkansas the past several days due to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. The Governor said the senseless death has rightfully led to protests and outrage, which is understandable, and he respects and supports peaceful protest as an important part of democracy. However, he did say that violence and destruction of property is counter to the message of what is trying to be conveyed by the protests: reform of the criminal justice system and the need for peace and love. The Governor will be hosting a 4 p.m. press conference to discuss this matter further. As some of the more combustible protests have occurred in the capital city, the Mayor of Little Rock has imposed a curfew, beginning tonight from 10 p.m. – 5 a.m.
  • The Governor reviewed the slides and noted that for a long period of time, Northwest Arkansas cases were averaging around 20 a day, but the dramatic growth in Northwest Arkansas is now driving the numbers statewide. Almost 40% of the hospitalizations are in Northwest Arkansas.
  • Asked about the poultry industry having a large number of cases, the Governor said it is not just about the poultry industry or the workplace, but about how to reduce community spread. The poultry industry does their own contact tracing, and the Governor believes they have set a national model for best practices, taking the extra step to test every worker and applicant, provide healthcare, and ensuring best practices to keep the supply chain open.
  • A reporter asked about conflicting messages, with cases going up, but restrictions being lifted. The Governor reiterated that the state has gradually lifted restrictions so it could measure the impact of those restrictions being lifted. However, no data was available to support the connection between lifting restrictions and increased cases. The Governor noted the state would have to learn to manage its way through the crisis, as the state can’t be restricted forever.
  • Asked about what could be done to ensure protests do not become violent, the Governor said he believed law enforcement has done a good job respecting protesters’ rights but taking quick action when property destruction occurs. Asked a follow-up question about his call with the President and other Governors today, the Governor noted that while the President is looking at the national picture, the Governor is confident the state is appropriately respecting protestor rights as well as simultaneously protecting property.
  • In response to a question about whether the state will mandate mask-wearing by law enforcement, the Governor indicated he does not know why law enforcement officers were not wearing masks, so he was not prepared to mandate mask-wearing. He did note that from the pictures he had seen, protestors and law enforcement had done a pretty good job of wearing masks and social distancing.
  • Regarding workers’ compensation for employees impacted by COVID-19, the Governor did note that there may be open legal questions, as it can be difficult to prove the infection occurred at work. That said, the Governor was happy to hear when employers ensure employees who become infected do not lose pay.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith stated that while the testing in May was excellent, the state needs to further increase testing. As a comparison, Dr. Smith stated that a colleague in Tennessee notified him that they had tested 3.8% of their population last month. His private goal is to test 4% of Arkansas’s population in June.
  • In Northwest Arkansas, there have been 1,749 positive cases and a 5.8% positivity rate. There have been 281 tests per 10,000 people, compared to 442 per 10,000 statewide. Of the 985 active cases in Northwest Arkansas, 43% are Latino. 28% of the positive cases in Northwest Arkansas involve the poultry industry.
  • 571 poultry workers statewide have tested positive. 392 of these are active cases, with 73% being Latino poultry workers. Dr. Smith noted that while the poultry industry contact tracing does not replace ADH contact tracing, it helps ADH more readily identify worker contacts for those who are infected.
  • As all nursing home residents and employees will be tested in June, Dr. Smith said that some residents and employees will be retested, if they have not been tested recently.

 

 

5/29/2020

COVID-19 Cases

 

 

There have been 239 additional cases since yesterday, May 28, for a total of 6,777 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 239 cases, two were from correctional facilities and 237 were from community settings, including 25 healthcare workers.  There are now 1,699 active cases, with 144 in correctional facilities, 73 in nursing homes and 1,482 in the community.  There have been 4,946 recoveries, with more recoveries yesterday than new cases.  Total deaths—132.  There are 113 hospitalized patients, a new peak, with 24 on ventilators.

 

In nursing homes, 384 residents and 245 workers have tested positive.

 

2,702 tests were performed yesterday, May 28, with a positivity rate of 4.1%.  Overall, over 70,000 tests have been done in May.  There is an overall positivity rate of 3.9%.

 

The above chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  The red line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1.  The blue line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day.  This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction.  The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor said that the Technical Advisory Group, which will investigate technologies associated with contact tracing and testing measures, will meet for the first time on June 2.
  • Regarding Lake Hamilton, a popular outdoor destination, the Governor said that the Garland County Sheriff’s Department and the Arkansas Game and Fish will provide support to one another this weekend, reminding people of the importance of social distancing while on the lake.
  • As ADH does contact tracing, they continue to find only a very small percent of infected individuals, less than 2%, have visited a facility that reopened this month.
  • The Governor noted there have been five different epidemics in five different stages across the state. The seven-day rolling average for regions in Arkansas is as follows:
    • Northeast Arkansas is on a downward trajectory
    • Northwest Arkansas, which accounted for 79 cases today, is trending much higher
    • Southwest Arkansas, a large poultry processing region, is seeing an upward trend, driven by Sevier County
    • Central Arkansas has been consistent and flat in its trend line for some time
    • Southeast Arkansas, after its peak due to prison outbreaks, is flat and at a low level
  • Asked about the current peak in hospitalizations, the Governor said he would not agree with the statement that this peak is worse than the first peak.  He said that ultimately depends on how fast and how far hospitalizations go up and down.
  • Asked if he knew why cases keep increasing, the Governor stated that ADH is exploring those details with contract tracing.  He said that with community spread it takes more work doing contact tracing, but ADH has a good handle on it.
  • The Governor said that the state is looking at the language barrier being a reason for the increase in cases in Northwest Arkansas.  The Governor will be in Northwest Arkansas on Monday, June 1, and he will be speaking with the Hispanic community about working on increased outreach.
  • Regarding a question about local jurisdictions having the authority to require individuals to wear a mask, the Governor said he’s happy to talk with Mayors about the issues they are facing and to work with them.  As it relates to local business owners, the Governor said shopkeepers have a great deal to say about their own premises, and they could post a sign requiring a mask.
  • The Governor has not made an announcement regarding state employee bonuses, but he will soon.  Regarding the state budget, it was previously revised downward to reflect a downward trend in state revenue.  However, last month the state beat the revenue forecast and he expects the same for May.  He doesn’t expect any further budget cuts.
  • Asked about additional restrictions for nursing homes, the Governor is not imposing any new restrictions, but beginning June 1, every nursing home resident and employee will be tested for COVID-19.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith reported that the state had now tested over 4% of the population for COVID-19.
  • Dr. Smith announced there will be a testing event today, May 29, in Dardanelle and tomorrow, May 30, in Fayetteville, West Memphis, DeQueen and Pine Bluff.  Dr. Smith mentioned that ADH has worked to test extensively in minority communities, and he was happy to announce that ADH would be testing at a Historically Black College and University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, when they are in Pine Bluff.  The goal is to test at least 500 at each event.  Next weekend they will host testing events in Jonesboro, Wrightsville and El Dorado.
  • Dr. Smith mentioned that 25% of the active cases are in the Hispanic Community, with the acceleration likely associated with the poultry industry, which has had over 400 cases.
  • Asked about where contact tracers are locating case origination, Dr. Smith said they are seeing the largest clusters in workplaces. They see a lot of workplace cases because of higher risk factors in workplace environments, where people spend a lot of time in close proximity with others.
  • Dr. Smith was asked about a tweet from President Trump where President Trump said the U.S. was terminating its relationship with the WHO.  Dr. Smith said the WHO has done a lot of good things, and he hopes the U.S. can find a way to support them again.

Stacy Hurst: Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (DPHT)

  • Campgrounds, including tent camping, and bathhouses will reopen on June 1.
  • The ADPHT has collaborated closely with federal partners, and Secretary Hurst announced that several popular national parks, including the Buffalo River and Hot Springs National Park, are open today, May 29, and others will reopen in the near future.

 

 

5/28/2020

COVID-19 Cases

 

 

There have been 261 additional cases since yesterday, May 27, for a total of 6,483 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 261 cases, all were from community settings, making it the highest number of community cases in one day. There are now 1,830 active cases with 374 in correctional facilities, 71 in nursing homes, and 1,385 in the community. There have been 4,583 recoveries. Total deaths—125. There are 104 hospitalized patients, with 27 on ventilators.

 

In nursing homes, 372 residents and 230 workers have tested positive.

 

2,966 tests were performed yesterday, May 27. Overall, 67,500 tests have been done in May. There is an overall positivity rate of 3.9%.

 

The above chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The blue line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1. The red line shows the 7-day rolling average for new cases reported each day. This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction. The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Asked if there was a common thread in the surge in cases in the Latino community, the Governor indicated that they are investigating. A large number are employed in the food processing industry, so the state is looking to see if there is a correlation. The Governor said that the increase may have to do with expanded information due to testing.
  • In response to a question regarding liability protection mentioned in the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force’s (AERTF) Interim Report, the Governor said there was a high level of need set forth in the report, and that the report could help educate policymakers of the need. The Governor said he has always supported reasonable tort reform, but as far as whether something should occur in a special session or in next year’s legislative session, the Governor said he needs to hear from more members of the legislature on which path makes more sense.
  • Asked whether there may need to be a regional approach to managing COVID-19 in Arkansas, Governor Hutchinson said he believes taking a statewide approach has been successful. The Governor reiterated that the state is not going back to more restrictive guidelines and directives, so everyone must remain vigilant statewide.
  • In response to a question about whether there may be more peaks in the future, the Governor’s response was that the state has never been through anything like this before, so one can’t gauge history to accurately answer that question. As far as mandating masks, the Governor doesn’t think the state needs to change from a guideline to a directive, especially because it is so hard to enforce, but he and ADH will continue to remind the state about the need for masks.
  • The Governor has received and quickly reviewed the AERTF Interim Report, but has not been able to fully digest the material.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Of the 261 cases, over 100 were in Benton and Washington Counties in Northwest Arkansas. 42% have Spanish surnames. 85% of the cases in Rogers, in Benton County, were in the Latino community, while 40% of the cases in Springdale, in Washington County, were in the Latino community. The average age for someone testing positive was 40 in Benton County, 38 in Washington County, and 26 in Jonesboro.
  • There will be increased outreach efforts to the Hispanic community to help them protect themselves and their families from COVID-19.
  • Asked about how many were hospitalized in Northwest Arkansas, Dr. Smith said that he didn’t have specifics, but hospitals were not anywhere near capacity.
  • Dr. Smith hasn’t seen data connecting the recent increase in cases to Memorial Day weekend activities.
  • Asked about their contact tracing efforts, Dr. Smith said the protocol is to try to have contacts of those infected tested as soon as possible after a contact tracer makes contact. As there are 2.8 contacts on an average case, of those 261 infected, there may be 992 people that may need to quarantine.
  • Asked about testing efforts at food processing plants, Dr. Smith said some employers have engaged in efforts on their own. Dr. Smith elaborated that ADH has an excellent partnership with the private sector, but for some, it makes more sense to go onsite, others not as much. He stated ADH is willing to work with employers on testing.
  • Dr. Smith said ADH has emphasized worksites, but it’s larger than a workspace issue. For instance, the fastest-growing age group for positive cases is those that are younger than 18. Therefore, ADH will continue to add additional testing, including testing events.
  • To follow up on a question about asymptomatic cases, Dr. Smith said that more cases have been asymptomatic overall. He elaborated that half of the individuals testing positive had no symptoms at the time tested, while local health units are reporting that 74% reported no symptoms at testing.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force (AERTF)

  • The AERTF Interim Report will be published tomorrow on www.arkansasready.com. He indicated that they will ensure that key provisions are in Spanish.
  • The Interim Report highlights the following needs: testing and contact tracing; business liability mitigation; childcare resources, funding, and availability; workforce training; and increased broadband access.
  • Steuart is concerned by the increase in cases, but optimistic. He is glad that the statistics are not showing a correlation between the steps to reopen and the increase in cases. He believes it is important to look at the data comprehensively, not just one dataset.
  • Steuart said the lack of certainty regarding liability is seen as a drag on the state’s ability to recover economically. It has been the resounding theme of the AERTF.

 

 

5/27/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 97 additional cases since yesterday, May 26, for a total of 6,277 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 97 cases, two were from correctional facilities and 95 from community settings.  There are now 1,733 active cases with 466 in correctional facilities, 68 in nursing homes and 1,199 in the community.  There have been 4,424 recoveries.  Total deaths—120.  There are 108 hospitalized patients, with 22 on ventilators.  The peak number of hospitalizations is 109.

 

In nursing homes, 364 residents and 224 workers have tested positive.  There have been 301 cases associated with the poultry industry, with 220 active cases.

 

4,033 tests were performed yesterday, May 26, with a positivity rate of 1.9%.  Overall, 66,279 tests have been done in May and 117,076 total.

 

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor was in Jonesboro, Arkansas for today’s press conference.  The Governor mentioned that this was the first time he had been back in Jonesboro since the day after a tornado ripped through the city on March 28.  He commended the city on its recovery during these challenging times.  The Governor went by the Jonesboro Division of Workforce Services (DWS) Office and thanked them for all their hard work in assisting those that are going through difficult financial times.
  • The Governor showed a slide with the number and growth rate of COVID-19 by age group.  The 0-17 and 18-24 age groups were highlighted as seeing large increases, 46% and 32% respectively.  The Governor mentioned that those age groups may feel they are invincible but need to be conscious that their decisions impact others.  Asked if children are vulnerable because of the increase in cases for those between 0-17 in age, the Governor said that the importance in illustrating that increase was because children can be carriers and their actions can impact those that are vulnerable.  The Governor understands that children and teenagers often can be undisciplined, but it is important for them to think through their actions.
  • The Governor also showed slides demonstrating that the seven-day rolling average is on a downward trend for infections and hospitalizations in Northeast Arkansas, where Jonesboro is located, but that Northwest Arkansas has seen a 58% increase in infections this past week.
  • Asked about how the state is preparing for the fall, where there could be an increase in COVID-19 cases and the flu, the Governor said the state is spending a lot of time now building the infrastructure so the state can be prepared for a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.  Specifically, the state is investing in contact tracing, testing resources, and looking at antibody testing and how to implement widespread vaccinations.
  • Receiving a question about whether the state has developed a comprehensive plan for K-12 education next year, the Governor said that process is ongoing.  The Governor is working with Secretary Key from the Arkansas Department of Education and superintendents from around the state to develop specific plans.  The Governor said likely there will be blended education, with both classroom and online education. They will likely be requesting funding to help those areas in Arkansas without access to high-speed broadband, so those students aren’t hampered.  Asked about the timeline, the Governor said they expect school to start at the usual time, but there may be additional training for teachers as well as structural changes allowing for more classroom space.
  • Asked again about elections in November, the Governor said that voters should be assured that there will be elections in November and that he will work hard to ensure voter and poll worker safety.  The timeline for making a decision is August, because County Clerks have to start printing ballots and preparing for the election.
  • Asked what the state is doing to assist those impacted by the March tornado that destroyed parts of Jonesboro, the Governor highlighted that the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) is administering a federal disaster assistance program.  The time period to apply is from May 28 to June 10, and the Governor said that more information could be obtained by calling 1-888-683-ADEM.
  • Asked about going on national television programs, the Governor said that he is comfortable highlighting Arkansas’s efforts nationally.
  • Asked if he had anything to say to those that have suffered economically, the Governor said his heart goes out to those that have suffered economically because he understands that there have been real hardships.  He stressed that the state has worked hard to get assistance out, including having 60 people work during the holiday weekend to process economic assistance claims.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith said that he has not seen a correlation between the rise in cases and locations that have reopened this month.  A very small percentage, less than 1% of those infected, have reported going to a restaurant, barbershop, church, daycare, gym, or hotel within the previous 14 days.
  • In Craighead County, where Jonesboro is located, there have been 191 cases overall, or 4% of the total, with 50 active cases.   There are 10 currently hospitalized in Jonesboro, with one on a ventilator, and no reported deaths.
  • Dr. Smith said that 575 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19, a 9.2% positivity rate, and 447 have recovered. In Craighead County, 35 healthcare workers have tested positive.
  • Asked about the swim party in Paragould, near Jonesboro, where a COVID-19 outbreak occurred, Dr. Smith said he’s not concerned about a widespread outbreak there, but it’s a warning for everyone that there is little margin for error with COVID-19.  He doesn’t want to focus on one event, but to learn from the event, so there’s not a repeat elsewhere.
  • Dr. Smith was asked about the percentage of cases that have been asymptomatic.  He said he doesn’t have that data, but ADH will work to come up with their best estimate.  It is likely a significant number.
  • Asked about a woman who had previously been COVID-19 positive who wanted to provide plasma for her husband who is currently infected, Dr. Smith said that, while a promising treatment, there is no definitive proof of plasma treatment’s effectiveness. Also, generally, it has been used for those that are very sick, where the potential benefit is greater than the harm.
  • Dr. Smith said it was a concern that Latinos make up 10% of the state’s total cases, but 20% of the active cases.  Asked why there may be an increase in cases with the Latino population, Dr. Smith said it may have been a delay because of lack of access to testing.  Also, there have been clusters of infections in the poultry industry, where many workers are Latino.

 

 

5/26/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 151 additional cases since yesterday, May 25, for a total of 6,180 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 151 cases, one was from a correctional facility and 150 from community settings.  There are now 1,729 active cases with 466 in correctional facilities, 72 in nursing homes and 1,191 in the community.  There have been 4,332 recoveries.  Total deaths—119.  There are 107 hospitalized patients, with 18 on ventilators.

 

In nursing homes, 361 residents and 215 workers have tested positive.  There have been 301 cases associated with the poultry industry.

 

2,984 tests were performed yesterday, May 25, with a positivity rate of 3.3%.  Overall, 61,922 tests have been done in May.

 

The above chart shows the trend in cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas and the “second surge” that has been in the news over the weekend.  The blue line is the cumulative number of cases in the state since March 1.  The red line shows the seven-day rolling average for new cases reported each day.  This approach controls for variations in data collection and correction.  The data are from the Arkansas Department of Health and are current as of this afternoon.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor, while not pleased with an increase in cases, did highlight that the hospitalization rate remains low along with the positivity rate.
  • The Governor mentioned the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) predictive modeling.  He said on March 25, UAMS projected there would be 8,000 cases by May 20.  Their newest model predicts 8,500 cases on June 23.  The Governor said that while the updated UAMS predictive models are useful, he hopes the state does not reach the projected 8,500 cases.
  • The Governor recognizes the vast majority of people are following the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) guidelines.  However, the Governor said more than a few put their convenience above others.  He noted that Arkansas is at a critical point in our journey and that whether we continue to go up or going down in case numbers totally depends on discipline and a commitment to avoid circumstances that contribute to COVID-19’s spread.
  • The Governor said the Department of Commerce worked all weekend processing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims, and they have sent out $16.8 million to over 5,000 claimants.  There are another 10,000 people eligible that haven’t filed claims.
  • Dr. Smith will remain as ADH Secretary until August 28 before going to work for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  This will allow for an extensive transition with the existing and new team.  Dr. Jose Romero will serve as Interim ADH Secretary.  Dr. Romero has served the state for over a decade and is a recognized leader, including chairing a national organization on immunization practices.
  • The Governor said the state has more than ample hospital capacity, so he doesn’t foresee an issue if hospitalizations continue to rise.  The state will continue to allow elective procedures. He and his team have learned from the past three months that they listened to the extraordinary projections regarding hospitalizations, so they stopped all other medical activities, but it cost hospitals hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, while only a little over 100 hospital beds were utilized.
  • Asked about crowds at Lake Hamilton, the Governor acknowledged that the state would look into the issue and will look at ways to encourage better utilization of the state’s guidelines for the next holiday or weekend where there are concerns.  The Governor is not sure what exactly can be done other than reminding people to do the right thing.  The Governor advised some lakes are under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission while some are under the jurisdiction of the Army Corp of Engineers.  However, ultimately, the state has primarily issued guidelines, not directives, and law enforcement is only being asked to remind people of best practices to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
  • The Governor couldn’t provide additional details from the swimming party COVID-19 breakout in Paragould because of privacy concerns.
  • Asked about the politicization of wearing masks and other measures regarding COVID-19, the Governor said he can set a good example regarding putting public health above other considerations.  He elaborated by saying it’s not about politics or political philosophy, but about being a good citizen and neighbor.
  • With bars reopening today, the Governor said they have strict requirements to reopen, but he is delighted they’re paying attention.  He recognizes bar owners have made investments in their business and he wants them to reopen if they can, or use their best judgment if they don’t want to reopen right now.
  • Asked about when the Governor’s Mansion would reopen, the Governor said that it was subject to the same rules as anyone else.  He is anxious for the public to have access to the Governor’s Mansion.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Of the 6,180 cases, 50.7% are White, and 37.1% are African-American, with African-Americans making up 37.2% of the COVID-19 deaths.  10.2% of the total cases have been Hispanic, but of the 150 community cases yesterday, 42% were Hispanic.
  • Of the 6,180 cases, 39.3% are from the age range of 25-44, while 14.3% are 65+, but those over the age of 65 account for 74% of the deaths.
  • Broken down by area of the state, the percentages of those that have died are as follows: Southeast Arkansas-31%; Central Arkansas-30%; Northeast Arkansas-19%; Southwest Arkansas-11%; and Northwest Arkansas-8.4%.
  • Discussing the numbers from around the state and the percentages of those infected and deceased, Dr. Smith commented that COVID-19 is an equal opportunity virus.
  • Moving forward, while there will be public health intervention, individual behaviors and decisions will have to reflect a desire to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Asked why we should worry about a disease where 99% recover, Dr. Smith said that if 1% of the state’s population died, it would lead to 30,000 deaths, which is unacceptable.
  • Asked about a swim party in Paragould, Dr. Smith said that with gatherings, bad things can happen if you don’t take precautions.
  • Dr. Smith was asked about a New York Times story saying that Northwest Arkansas had one of the largest percentage increases in cases, and what efforts were being undertaken to protect the Latino community. Dr. Smith said ADH was doing several things, including additional testing and advertising in Spanish language media in Northwest Arkansas. Dr. Romero and another ADH doctor speak Spanish, so they are helping, as well.  ADH has made a special emphasis recently for testing in Northwest Arkansas.
  • Asked about summer camps telling parents that children should be tested before being able to attend, Dr. Smith said it is great the camps are encouraging testing, and asymptomatic children can be tested at one of the 79 local health units around Arkansas.
  • Asked about his departure, Dr. Smith said he had no disagreement with the approach to addressing COVID-19 that was being taken in Arkansas and that working for the Governor has been one of the highlights of his career.  Colleagues told Dr. Smith that Admiral Redd was retiring as the Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the CDC and encouraged him to apply in February.
  • Dr. Smith said, based on the initial projections, they were concerned there could be 1,000 or more hospitalizations, and they made plans based on those projections, which could be utilized if necessary in the future.  However, he does not anticipate the need to utilize those plans.

 

 

5/22/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 154 additional cases since Thursday, May 21, for a total of 5,612 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 154 cases, 19 were from correctional facilities and 135 from community settings.  There are now 1,470 active cases with 510 in correctional facilities, 86 in nursing homes and 874 in the community.  There have been 4,029 recoveries.  Total deaths—113.  There are 81 hospitalized patients, with 14 on ventilators.

 

In nursing homes, 350 residents have tested positive and 201 workers.

 

2,909 tests were performed yesterday, May 21, with a positivity rate of 4.4%.  Overall, 102,041 tests have been done in total.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor said that the state has been fortunate because there is a 14.7% national unemployment rate, versus a rate of 10.2% in Arkansas.  102,000 individuals are unemployed in Arkansas.
  • The Governor said that as of noon today, 8,198 Ready for Business Grants have been approved, with funds being sent out today and this weekend
  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system, as of noon today, May 22, has paid 7,105 claims, and 3,000 more will be paid tonight.  The state will have 60-70 employees working over the weekend to process claims and handle calls.
  • The Governor said that while yesterday’s numbers, May 21, were very high, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has traced 61% of those community infections yesterday.  The Governor said three households in Washington County had 16 of 33 cases in that County, while in Paragould, eight cases were from the same street.
  • The Governor does not know the specifics off the top of his head on the number of Ready for Business Grants that have been reviewed or the dollar amount approved.  The state is still determining eligibility on some clams because the applicants provided insufficient or wrong information.
  • The Governor does not believe he has changed position on no-excuse absentee voting.  It’s too early to be talking about using emergency powers for elections in November.
  • Asked about some legislators being perturbed about the Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Director of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division (ABC) not being present for a legislative committee meeting yesterday, the Governor said he directed them not to appear.  He said he was sorry if there was a misunderstanding, but he had told the Senate President Pro Tem and the House Speaker that the DOC Secretary and ABC Director would not be attending.  He appreciates and understands the need for legislative oversight, which is why the DOC Secretary will be available for a larger committee meeting next week (Arkansas Legislative Council) and ADH officials were present yesterday.  He needed the DOC Secretary 100% focused on ensuring PUA payments go out this week. The Governor did not believe that the purpose of having the ABC Director at the legislative committee meeting, to discuss the cease and desist letter and potential loss of a liquor license for the Fort Smith concert scheduled before the ADH Directive allowed, was the appropriate forum.  He said the concert promoter could have appealed the ADH Directive and ABC decision to the Board of Health and/or the ABC Board.
  • With this being Memorial Day weekend, the Governor was asked if he was worried about an increase in cases.  The Governor indicated that he is not overly concerned with numbers today because of contact tracing, and the hospitalization rate and recovery rate trending down.  The Governor believes that with more information, the public will make better decisions.  He asked the public to remember there is a virus to manage and to avoid the spread.
  • President Trump made a statement about how churches need to reopen now.  The Governor said that churches have been open in Arkansas for several weeks, with ADH guidance, but some may not be comfortable reopening right now, but that’s been left to the discretion of the worship leaders.
  • Asked if the Governor is looking to institute Phase II in the Fall because of the increase in cases, the Governor said he didn’t believe it would be that far away.  The Governor is not looking at Phase II right now in the short term, but he does focus on the positivity rate, and if it remains steady and low, then they will be going down the road to entering Phase II.
  • Regarding whether state employees are required to wear masks, the Governor said that they have the same requirements as the private sector.  State employees are not required to wear masks at their desk, but they are required to social distance and wear a mask if they can’t social distance.  The state is working to make sure masks are available upon employees return from remote work.
  • Asked about what steps the state may take if there is a second wave of infections since the Governor said that the state was not going back to the restrictions that have been lifted, the Governor indicated that he doesn’t think a second wave will occur, if it does occur, until later this year.  He said it is all about contact tracing, and if they do that well, they will be in a position to maintain as close to a normal life as possible while keeping an eye on the virus.  His focus is not what are we going to close next, but how can we be open and safe.
  • The Southeastern Conference (SEC) said that voluntary workouts for teams in the SEC could begin on June 8.  The Governor said he is glad they’re working towards having sports next season, but it  sounds like the SEC is moving in the same direction as Arkansas guidelines.  A reporter asked if the Governor would defer to the SEC for college sports guidelines.  The Governor said ADH issued guidelines for K-12 team sports yesterday but will evaluate for intercollegiate sports later.
  • The percentage rate of infection is a key indicator for the Governor since it shows the seriousness of the spread, but he also looks at whether there is sufficient hospital space and ventilators.
  • Asked about legislators who are saying that it is hard to justify the existing state of emergency, the Governor said that he has laid out the mandate provided to the Governor of the state, and said without those powers, it would be very challenging for him and Dr. Smith to do their jobs providing for the public’s safety.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Regarding the 224 community cases yesterday, May 21, they contacted 137 of them.  24%, or 53 people, are known contacts of previous cases.  37 of 137 are connected with clusters at employment sites.  Dr. Smith said four sites of employment had pockets of positive cases.  Those facilities are: Nebo Poultry (where there were 21 cases reported yesterday), Ozark Poultry, St. Bernard’s Hospital, and a Cargill food processing plant.  Only two reported going to a restaurant and two at a  gym, so they are still not seeing clusters from newly reopened activities.
  • On May 25, ADH will update the directive on elected surgeries, removing restrictions for sicker patients, on the length of hospital stay, but still requiring testing within 72 days.  Notable changes will include no requirement for testing if it is a medical clinic outside a hospital and if the procedure is relatively minimal in nature (Dr. Smith mentioned out-patient cataract surgery).

Colonel Nate Todd: Secretary of Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs

  • The state tested all 90 veterans in their North Little Rock veterans home, and they were all negative.  They will soon test the residents in the Fayetteville facility.
  • The Governor and Adjutant General for the Arkansas National Guard will lay a wreath at the Veterans Cemetery on Monday, May 25, which will be on Facebook Live, but not open to the public.  Visitors can still visit gravesites.

Stacy Hurst: Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (DPHT)

  • Secretary Hurst mentioned that several popular state park trails and facilities will be open for this weekend.  She reminded visitors not to congregate and be mindful of water levels and potential flooding.

 


5/21/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 455 additional cases since Wednesday, May 20, for a total of 5,458 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  This is the largest single-day increase since reporting began.  Of those 455 cases, 229 were from the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City and 226 from community settings.  There are now 1,433 active cases with 543 in correctional facilities, 94 in nursing homes and 796 in the community.  There have been 3,915 recoveries.  Total deaths—110.  There are 86 hospitalized patients, with 14 on ventilators.

 

In nursing homes, 330 residents and 197 workers have tested positive.

 

2,616 tests were performed yesterday, May 20, with a positivity rate of 4.4%.  Of the 550 people tested in Forrest City, Arkansas, there were 33 positive cases.  There have been over 2,000 tests a day since May 12.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor mentioned that low-middle income folks, especially service industry workers, are bearing the brunt of the economic impact from COVID-19 because they may not be able to work remotely, so he is mindful of providing an opportunity to work in a safe fashion.
  • Crater of Diamonds State Park will open tomorrow, May 22, with some restrictions, including a limitation of 500 people per day.  Tickets can be bought online.
  • K-12 team sports are allowed effective June 1, with many restrictions on how they can occur and which sports are available.  They will revisit the issue on June 30.  The following are some details:
    • Ticket sales online, if possible.
    • Team practice and competition prohibited for close contact sports such as basketball, wrestling, football, volleyball, soccer and martial arts.
    • Practices would be allowed using individual equipment and physical distancing.
    • Temperature checks for coaches and staff.
    • Face coverings for those 10 years old and older, with athletes removing them during activity.
    • Showers prohibited, with locker rooms for storage only.
    • Frequent sanitizations of facilities and equipment.
    • Avoid huddles, high-fives, and other non-sport related contact.
    • Practice and competitions would be allowed for limited contact team sports like baseball, softball, track, gymnastics and swimming.
  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) website is secure and operational as of yesterday morning, May 20.  As of noon today, May 21, over 15,000 have submitted weekly claims.  Approximately 5,000 people will have payments submitted this evening or tomorrow by direct deposit or in the near future by debit card.
  • The Governor received a briefing from the forensics team regarding the data breach associated with the PUA Portal.  External reviewers are confident in the site’s security.  Asked if the forensics team provided updates on what occurred, the Governor said it remains to be seen the intent of the party who gained access, and anytime you have a breach, there are flaws with the system that you must fix.
  • Asked about mail-in voting in November, the Governor said he supports no-excuse early voting like what has been articulated in Executive Orders this spring, but it is too early to know whether there will be an emergency in the fall.  The Governor said that mail-in voting is not the law in Arkansas, security issues haven’t been resolved, and he doesn’t feel like it has broad support.  If Dr. Smith recommends easing voting restrictions, the Governor will consider his opinion.
  • Asked why he wasn’t concerned about the uptick in cases, the Governor said they had been very careful in phasing in reopenings and lifting restrictions gradually.  The Governor said the state isn’t going backward on imposing restrictions, so they must balance managing the economy while at the same time preventing the spread.  If guidelines are followed by the public then we will be successful.
  • Regarding a letter from the State Senate on a special session for limiting liability for businesses that reopen, the Governor said he has seen the letter but hasn’t seen a draft bill.  He wants to hear from the House of Representatives to see what their thinking is on the subject.
  • Asked about colleges reopening in the fall, the Governor said he is working with them so they can responsibly reopen because he wants them to reopen.  The key will be increasing testing capacity and the ability to rapidly respond to positive cases.  He anticipates proposals for the CARES Act steering committee to consider for utilizing funds for a statewide approach.
  • The Governor became passionate when told about a restaurant in Benton that had to close because people wouldn’t follow the ADH guidelines.  The Governor said he dined-in recently at a restaurant and the manager said that they had workers who were being cursed at regarding the rules.  The manager asked the Governor if he could make it clear that the state not the restaurant or its employees are mandating these guidelines. The Governor said behavior by some patrons doing things of that nature is embarrassing.  People need to know that these businesses are doing their best, so don’t blame the owner or waitstaff.  He said it is a very selfish act to say you’re not going to abide by the guidelines because you’re putting others at risk.
  • Asked about potential parental concerns about allowing team sports the day of a large spike in cases, the Governor said they are providing freedom of choice for parents.  This is an individual decision for parents, and he recognizes there will be peer pressure, but the government’s job is to provide guidance based on the best health information.  He and Dr. Smith have tried to be transparent, sharing information and not hiding bad news, to encourage confidence that the best decisions are being made.
  • The Governor looks forward to practicing basketball with his grandchildren, based on the ADH guidance for team sports.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The 226 community cases are not a biological phenomenon.  It’s a matter of increased testing.  They’ve done as much testing during May as they did in all of March and April.
  • ADH will be traveling to Washington, Crittenden, Jefferson, and Yell Counties in the next several weeks to do testing in partnership with community health centers.
  • Dr. Smith was wearing a red shirt to raise awareness of the need to donate blood.  There has been a decrease in blood donations, which has become a critical problem.
  • The directive on overnight summer camps involves a very complicated issue: how do you keep children safe, without undue risk, in a congregate setting, so the directive needed to be especially detailed.
  • Dr. Smith said it’s a little early to know whether the large increase in cases is connected.  Some states have reopened and haven’t seen an uptick in cases, so it’s challenging to know what’s causing the uptick in cases, other than additional testing.  Doing the contact tracing will be an investment in manpower, and will be challenging.  However, ADH’s capacity for contact tracing is growing so they can work more efficiently.  Dr. Smith presented a plan for dramatically scaling up contact tracing to the CARES Act Steering Committee, which was approved and goes to the legislature for further review.  He is encouraged by what ADH is able to do compared to where they were.  Currently, they can determine where 80% of cases now come from.  He said the Governor told him that Dr. Birx was bragging on Kansas for being able to know where 50% of their cases originate, by contrast.
  • While the directive has not been completed, and he expects it to be completed by the end of the day, Dr. Smith did say that overnight summer camps can reopen on May 31.
  • Asked about new CDC guidelines on schools, Dr. Smith said he looks forward to working with Secretary Key on implementing guidance for Arkansas schools.
  • Spectators at team sports events should follow the directive for large outdoor venues.
  • ADH is looking with keen interest at apps that can assist with contact tracing, and trying to incorporate them when they can.

Dr. Jose Romero: Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Chief Medical Officer at ADH

  • Dr. Romero spoke about Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome.  Dr. Romero said it follows COVID-19 infection, and the symptoms are significant inflammation including multiple organs, with the treatment being similar to that for Kawasaki Disease.  There have been approximately 200 cases worldwide, but none in Arkansas.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force (AERTF)

  • Steuart is proud of Arkansas businesses for complying with the state’s guidance and directives.  He said he wanted to recognize the Governor, as he said he has heard from many businesses praising the measured response he has taken to placing restrictions and lifting restrictions.
  • The AERTF is producing an interim report and anticipates publishing it by the end of next week.   It will provide a summary of where we have been, where we are now and next steps.  They will publish the report on arkansasready.com
  • Steuart announced that Crystal Bridges will reopen soon with restrictions.

 

 

5/20/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 80 additional cases since Tuesday, May 19, for a total of 5,003 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Of those 80 cases, one was from a correctional facility and 79 from community settings. There are now 1,044 active cases with 315 in correctional facilities, 85 in nursing homes and 644 in the community. There have been 3,852 recoveries. Total deaths—107, with four within the past day in nursing homes. There are 78 hospitalized patients, with 14 on ventilators.

 

At correctional facilities, since testing began, 951 inmates and 65 staff have tested positive at Cummins State Prison, 231 inmates and 15 staff at the Randall Williams Unit, and 609 inmates and 17 staff at the Forrest City Federal Prison.

 

Another daily record for testing was set, 4,936, with a positivity rate of 1.9%. 44,240 COVID-19 tests total have been performed in the month of May and 95,010 tests total, with an overall positivity rate under 2%.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The Governor is in Washington D.C. meeting with President Trump.
  • ADH has prepared a new dashboard to display data regarding COVID-19 for the public.
  • Asked about worksite safety, Dr. Smith said safe worksites are essential for economic recovery, as workers and customers need to be confident they are not at risk of infection. ADH directives are designed to make worksites safer. If there are COVID-19 infections, ADH can work with a worksite to do contact tracing and investigations. Many large multi-state organizations have their own internal teams, but smaller organizations should know that ADH is available to implement guidance.
  • The increase in positive cases is not necessarily unexpected, due to the large increase in testing.
  • ADH evaluates the food processing industry, particularly poultry, closely, as the industry is very important to Arkansas’s economy. Dr Smith mentioned over 100 food processing industry workers have tested positive, but only around 50 are currently active.
  • Asked about the directive on team sports and summer camps, Dr. Smith said they will make an announcement tomorrow, May 21, after the Governor returns to Arkansas.
  • Regarding an outbreak in Dardanelle, Dr. Smith said it was related to the poultry industry, and there are 14 active cases.
  • Asked about the court system, Dr. Smith stated that courts do not exactly fit in with other ADH guidance or directives, so ADH has worked with the Supreme Court to develop specific guidance for them. Dr. Smith, in response to a follow-up question, said that district and circuit courts could work with ADH on developing guidance, as well.
  • Dr. Smith will be presenting a proposal to the CARES Act Steering Committee about implementing a contact tracing program that transitions from an emergency response to sustained efforts.
  • In a limited fashion, for critical infrastructure workers or essential workers, ADH has prepared guidance for asymptomatic workers who have tested positive, to continue to work, if they wear full PPE and interact only with those who have also tested positive.
  • Asked about those that don’t follow guidelines and directives, Dr. Smith said they are the exception, and punitive measures aren’t utilized unless there is a clear refusal to comply.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha: Medical Director for Immunizations at the ADH

  • Dr. Dillaha provided an overview of what occurs when a person tests positive. First, it is reported to ADH. The patient is contacted by a nurse and interviewed. The nurse is interested in when the infectious period began. They then go back two days, because they can spread COVID-19 when asymptomatic. The nurse contacts the patient’s employer to ensure close contacts can be identified, tested and quarantined. If those contacts are essential workers or critical infrastructure workers, they may still need to work, so ADH can help with the work set-up. Processes can be arranged to reduce the possibility of transmission. Examples include more distance between employees, not directly facing another employee, or plexiglass. The goal is to keep businesses open.

Dr. Naveen Patil: Infectious Disease Specialist at the ADH

  • As part of grant funding to address Ebola, Dr. Patil’s team visited over 200 facilities to help them work on best practices. This has allowed Arkansas to engage quickly in responding to COVID-19.
  • If there has been a positive case in a long-term care facility or other congregate setting, his team’s goal is to respond within 24 hours to test everyone. They work hard to get the results within 48 hours and complete the process within 72 hours.

 

 

5/19/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 110 additional cases since Monday, May 18, for a total of 4,923 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 110 cases, four were from a correctional facility and 106 from community settings.  There are now 1,082 active cases with 369 in correctional facilities, 83 in nursing homes and 630 in the community.  There have been 3,739 recoveries.  Total deaths—102.  There are 78 hospitalized patients, with 14 on ventilators.

 

In nursing homes, 325 residents have tested positive and 189 workers.  At the Federal Correctional Facility in Forrest City, there have been 585 inmates who have tested positive and 17 staff.

 

A daily record for testing was done yesterday, 3,014, with a positivity rate of 1.5%.  Of the 550 people tested for COVID-19 in Forrest City, Arkansas, 500 results have come back, with 32 positive cases.  39,700 COVID-19 tests total have been performed in the month of May.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives issued today, May 19.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Today’s press conference was focused on nursing homes and long-term care facilities (LTCF).  The Governor thanked LTCF workers and residents who have been through a lot and acted heroically.  He mentioned Dr. Smith has deployed a rapid response plan and team to aggressively work to prevent outbreaks.  He noted active cases in LTCF have gone down, and showed a pie chart, which he referred to as the “PAC Man Chart.”  Of the 227 nursing homes in Arkansas, 192 currently have 0 cases.
  • The Governor mentioned that enhanced payment for LTCF direct care workers, which were approved by the legislature, have gone out.  The first payments of $1.7 million went out on May 1.  Since then, over $21 million has been paid out to over 8,000 LTCF workers.  The Governor stated that Secretary Gillespie, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), and Rachel Bunch, Executive Director of the Arkansas Healthcare Association (AHCA) had done an excellent job of collaborating to get the funds to workers.
  • The Governor announced that on June 1, every LTCF worker and resident will be tested.  They expect this to be 40,000-50,000 new tests next month, in addition to other testing.  Human Development Centers will be included with LTCF.
  • The Governor will be wearing a mask at the West Wing tomorrow for his meeting with the President.  He will also be tested for COVID-19 for the first time.
  • Regarding the data breach associated with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Portal, the Governor said that applicants have been notified of the data breach.  Currently, the state is ensuring the system is secure, working with a third-party to determine what caused the breach and how to ensure it doesn’t occur again.  Applications are on pause until the PUA Portal is secure.
  • The state’s goal is to have checks out shortly after security verification.  Asked who is paying for the PUA Portal, the Governor indicated it was the state, but they hoped to be reimbursed by the Federal Government.  Also, in response to a question, the Governor said the state was ultimately responsible for the breach, but the developer may have some responsibility.  They’ll worry more about responsibility after ensuring data-security and check distribution.
  • Asked about the letter from the Dental Association raising complaints about perceived onerous compliance requirements associated with the ADH directive on elective dental procedures, the Governor said that he received the letter but that was his first notice that there was an issue.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Asked if the increase in cases was due to the reopening of businesses since May 4, Dr. Smith said ADH has performed analysis, and they do not believe the increase is due to reopening, but due to a tripling in the number of tests performed.  Three infected individuals mentioned going to a restaurant, six to a barbershop, 10 to church, three to daycare, and four to a gym.
  • Asked why there were over 10 cases yesterday from Sevier County, a small county, Dr. Smith said he didn’t have the details, but it could be related to an outbreak at a Pilgrim’s Pride food processing plant, where six cases have been reported.
  • Another question was asked about infections at a Butterball food processing plant in Huntsville, and what it could take for it to be closed.  Dr. Smith said he doesn’t have any information on that specific facility, but it would take an extreme situation, where a facility can’t operate safely because so many employees are sick, for a facility to be closed.
  • Asked about the letter from the Dental Association raising complaints about perceived onerous compliance requirements associated with the ADH directive on elective dental procedures, Dr. Smith set up a COVID-19 Dental Advisory Board and they held a meeting with the Governor present, where the date for elective dental procedures was moved up from May 18 to May 11.  The COVID-19 Dental Advisory Board met last night but Dr. Smith wasn’t present and has not received a summary yet.  Dr. Smith did express some frustration that the Dental Association isn’t communicating their issues by meeting with the Dental Board.

Rachel Bunch: Executive Director of Arkansas Healthcare Association (AHCA)

  • Arkansas LTCF has exceeded their minimum staffing requirements, unlike many states, and aren’t having to rely on infected employees to meet those requirements like some states.
  • Ms. Bunch mentioned that Arkansas has taken a proactive approach to testing, different from other states.  LTCF owners, working with ADH, will test the whole building after one person is infected, which has allowed LTCF owners to move infected residents to a different location to recover and have workers recover from home.  The AHCA is working with ADH on an appropriate plan for statewide testing.
  • Ms. Bunch was proud that 72 LTCF residents and 189 employees have recovered, while 19 facilities have moved off the list of facilities with an active case.  Asked about how they recovered, Ms. Bunch said the vast majority recovered while in isolation.
  • Currently, only 1.4% of the total LTCF population and 0.7% of staff have tested positive.
  • Asked about the needs of LTCF regarding PPE, Ms. Bunch said it fluctuates day-by-day, but the supply chain does appear to be improving.

 

 

5/18/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 54 additional cases since Sunday, May 17, for a total of 4,813 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 54 cases, one was from a correctional facility and 53 from around the state.  There are now 1,068 active cases with 378 in correctional facilities, 99 in nursing homes and 591 in the community.  There have been 3,645 recoveries.  Total deaths—100.  There are 77 hospitalized patients, with 12 on ventilators.

 

2,229 tests were done yesterday, May 17, with a positivity rate of 2.8%.  This weekend 550 people were tested for COVID-19 in Forrest City, Arkansas, which has had a significant number of cases because of the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) located there.  They exceeded their goal of testing 500 residents.  They have 290 results back from Forrest City, with 24 infections.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives issued today.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Major Announcement: Bars located within restaurants can open on May 19, while free-standing bars can reopen on May 26.
  • The Governor’s Press Conference was held in Forrest City.  The Mayor of Forrest City thanked the Governor and Dr. Smith for working with him, regional elected officials, and local business and public health officials, to respond effectively to COVID-19.
  • It was announced that there was a data-breach associated with the state’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) portal.  The Governor learned about the PUA portal breach from his office, and the site had been taken down by the time the Governor learned about the breach.  The incident is being investigated by the FBI because the data had been “exploited,” meaning the data was examined, but the Governor doesn’t believe the data was manipulated like what criminals would do.  Whenever there is a data breach, they have to notify their insurance carrier and ensure that Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is secured.  They also must notify law enforcement.  Law enforcement recognized the breach as something to investigate further.  While he didn’t want to discuss specific laws that may have been violated, he does believe that access was gained, which may be in violation of security protocols and the law.
  • The Governor is not concerned about the vulnerability of the PUA portal generally but said it’s a concern in the sense that PII of people, who don’t need the aggravation, was viewed.  The Governor will wait to see what the experts say before making a determination on the status of the portal and its future vulnerability.  The PUA portal was worked on over the weekend to ensure its security so they can get checks out this week.  The Governor is not aware of the connection between issues the PUA portal has had previously with accepting claims and the vulnerabilities which may have allowed for a data breach.
  • Regarding the Democratic Party of Arkansas calling for an investigation into the PUA breach and the issues surrounding the Ready for Business Grants, the Governor thinks it’s uncalled for to engage in partisan attacks at this time.  The Governor believes that everyone needs to be working together in a bipartisan manner to ensure public safety and to get assistance out to those in need.
  • The Governor will be visiting the White House on Wednesday.  He said it will be an opportunity to discuss what is being done in Arkansas to reopen the economy.  Additionally, the food processing industry in Arkansas, which is an integral part of the food supply chain in America, will be discussed.
  • Regarding the Department of Corrections, the Governor believes inmates have received adequate medical care, as shown by the vast majority of inmates at Cummins having recovered. The cases in Forrest City and the FCI are out of the state’s control, as the FCI is under federal control.  The Governor has spoken with the United States Attorney General so the state could coordinate with the federal government on their response.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Regarding the uptick in hospitalizations, Dr. Smith said hospitalizations generally lag a week behind cases, which increased last week.
  • St. Francis County, where Forrest City is located, has done a good job testing: 762 tests per 10,000 residents.  While many were done in correctional facilities, the region of Arkansas where Forrest City is located has tested 388 per 10,000 residents.  This is in contrast to the whole state, which has performed 290 tests per 10,000 residents.
  • Dr. Smith mentioned that hospitals have taken great measures to protect their patients and employees.  Hospitals are not places to avoid, but places to get needed care.  Dr. Smith mentioned his mother-in-law was admitted to the ICU on Friday, but was transferred out and is doing well.  Dr. Smith mentioned his mother-in-law was afraid to go to the hospital, and they had an honest family discussion about the risks in going or not going to the hospital, and she recognized the need to go.
  • Regarding the directive for bars, Dr. Smith said it will be similar to those for restaurants.  Since bars receive licenses from ADH, they will be expected to comply as a requirement of their license.  Moving forward, Dr. Smith believes that they will continue to provide guidance on physical distancing and other measures, but the state will have to rely on testing and individuals taking personal action to ensure their safety and the safety of the community, as opposed to regulatory mandates. While hopefully, the state will see cases decrease, Arkansas will likely be dealing with COVID-19 for a while, so individuals will need to internalize the need to make good and healthy choices.  In a month or two, the state will be relaxing guidelines versus issuing new guidelines.

 

 

5/15/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 97 additional cases since yesterday, May 14, for a total of 4,463 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 97 cases, 18 are from correctional facilities and 79 from around the state, including 10 from a drug rehabilitation center in Pope County.  There are now 975 active cases with 322 in correctional facilities, 102 in nursing homes and 551 in the community.  There have been 3,390 recoveries.  Total deaths—98.  There are 65 hospitalized patients, with nine on ventilators.

 

2,669 tests were done yesterday, May 14, with a positivity rate of 2.5%.  Throughout May, 29,389 tests have been done, so the state is almost halfway to its goal of testing 60,000 people this month.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • After May 18, all retailers will be open in Arkansas, with restrictions, except bars.  The Governor anticipates making an announcement regarding bars on Monday, May 18.
  • A new website, ar.gov/covid, will provide a visual map showing the closest COVID-19 testing facility.
  • Lodges and state parks are now open.  He showed slides of occupancy rates for various state parks, and a pie chart showing 71% of the occupants will be from Arkansas.  The occupancy rates are consistent with 2019.
  • Asked about what it would take to revisit Phase I restrictions, the Governor does not see a reasonable potential of going back.  The Governor expects to stay in Phase I until confident that there will be no resurgence.  They will look at hospitalization data and the ability to respond appropriately if there is an uptick in cases and/or hospitalizations.
  • The Fort Smith concert promoter has submitted an updated plan, with modifications, which has been approved by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH).
  • Asked about Oklahoma entering Phase II, the Governor doesn’t feel pressured to do what other states are doing, because each has different circumstances and their Governors are making decisions based on their states.
  • Asked about Arkansas having one of the lowest percentages of tests per 10,000, the Governor said that is why he wants to ramp up testing.  They were limited previously by the availability of supplies and capability, but not anymore.  Asked why it has been more difficult for Arkansas versus Mississippi and Tennessee, the Governor said they were hotspots and resources went to hotspots.
  • The Governor is unaware of bars being open and not practicing social distancing.  If there are issues, the ADH should be called to be made aware.
  • All three casinos have officially been approved to reopen on Monday, May 18.
  • On Monday, May 18, the Governor will be in Forrest City.  Tuesday’s Daily COVID-19 Press Conference will focus on Nursing Homes.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith acknowledged that it has been a challenge for elective surgery patients to receive the results of a COVID-19 test within 48 hours, so on Monday, May 18, they will allow elective surgeries if the patient has received negative COVID-19 results within 72 hours.
  • All 70 local health units throughout Arkansas are available for COVID-19 testing.  Dr. Smith mentioned that these facilities would be testing where there has been active transmission in the community. Asked what that meant, Dr. Smith said that that it is where a lot of transmission is going on.  If someone is in an area where there are quite a few cases, and they have testing capability, they will be tested.
  • Asked about the Abbott Labs rapid testing devices that have been shown to provide many false negatives, Dr. Smith said they are still a good device, in specific situations, such as for those that are symptomatic.  There are 15 of these devices around the state, but there have been limited use, because of a lack of testing cartridges.
  • Most of the inmates at Cummins State Prison that have tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered.
  • Asked about the CDC raising awareness of COVID-19 positive children having symptoms similar to Kawasaki Disease, Dr. Smith said that was something they’d be keeping their eyes on.  Dr. Smith said luckily there have been very few cases in children in Arkansas and generally, children are less likely to have serious concerns associated with COVID-19.
  • Asked by a reporter from Memphis, Tennessee about Crittenden County, home of West Memphis, being a hotspot based on cases per 100,000, Dr. Smith said that while Crittenden would be a hotspot compared to other rural areas, he doesn’t believe it would be a hotspot compared to Shelby County, Tennessee, home of Memphis.  Dr. Smith doesn’t use the phrase hotspot anymore, as the phrase is imprecise and doesn’t convey what he wants it to mean.

Stacy Hurst: Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (DPHT)

  • In addition to reopening parks and lodges, DPHT will loosen other restrictions as well.
  • Arkansas has been awarded $500,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to provide grants to Arkansas nonprofits, subject to legislative approval.
  • DPHT will be screening for COVID-19 at state parks for those staying overnight.  Those from hotspots will be required to quarantine for 14 days.

 

 

5/14/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 130 additional cases since yesterday, May 13, for a total of 4,366 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 130 cases, 17 are from correctional facilities and several counties had more than 10 cases, including 21 in Union County, where the Governor was earlier this week. There are now 928 active cases with 305 in correctional facilities, 101 in nursing homes and 522 in the community.  There have been 3,340 recoveries.  Total deaths—98.  There are 69 hospitalized patients, with 10 on ventilators.

 

There have been 900 inmates and 60 staff test positive, and seven inmate deaths, at Cummins State Prison.  48 inmates and two employees at the Randall Williams unit in Pine Bluff have tested positive.  Every inmate from the building where inmates have tested positive have been tested, but they will begin testing other buildings.

 

51 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection.  316 nursing home residents and 179 staff have tested positive.  33 nursing home residents have died.

 

1,991 tests were done yesterday, May 13, with a positivity rate of 2.6%.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives announced today, May 14.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

The Governor said the state received 100,000 face masks from the Taiwanese consulate.
  • The Governor provided a chart showing upward trends on cases and hospitalizations.  They are not aware of the uptick reflecting a large community outbreak, it may just be the result of additional testing.   He stated he and Dr. Smith are not in a position yet to predict what will happen with entering Phase II, however, as of today, with the two-day uptick, they are not prepared to enter Phase II on Monday, which would be 14 days after Phase I.  They will continue to monitor the data over the next couple days.  The Governor reminded everyone not to take for granted that Phase II will occur in 14 days.
  • Walmart has added testing sites in West Memphis, Jonesboro, Hot Springs and Texarkana to the existing locations in Bentonville, Little Rock, and Fort Smith.
  • The Governor stated once again that case tracking is the most effective defense against COVID-19.  He reviewed with Dr. Smith the 64 cases from last Saturday, May 9, to see what occurred with contact tracing.  They successfully contacted 49 of the 64 cases to do contact tracing.  However, two individuals couldn’t be contacted by the ADH when they were trying to do contact tracing.  The Governor stressed that if you are contacted by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) please respond, so others aren’t exposed.  On average, there are 2.5 contacts per contact tracing case.
  • The concert in Fort Smith scheduled for May 15 was rescheduled for May 18, consistent with ADH’s directive.  The Governor is grateful that they determined they should follow the law, but declined to address the concert promoter’s charge that they were treated unfairly and their rights infringed upon.
  • Asked about a parolee in Eureka Springs testing positive and not quarantining, the Governor said that it was important that a COVID-19 positive parole violator be brought into Department of Correction facilities, as they are likely better prepared to manage a positive COVID-19 case versus the local county jail.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith visited a PPE decontaminant facility at the Goodwill Industries facility this morning.  He said the facility can decontaminate N95 masks for providers, free of charge, within 24-72 hours, so those masks can be reused up to 20 times.
  • Asked about a parolee in Eureka Springs testing positive and not quarantining, ADH will do aggressive contact tracing and some community testing.  They are taking it very seriously.  The individual tested positive after release, but was negative when tested previously.  They test all inmates before their release.  For a non-parolee, ADH can issue an order of isolation or order of quarantine, if necessary.
  • Asked about Carroll County, where Eureka Springs is located, not having sufficient test kits to do testing, Dr. Smith said they can resolve that problem by the end of day.
  • Dr. Smith said it didn’t make sense at this point to test all inmates at Cummins, even if asymptomatic, or do antibody testing, but they would be looking at doing expanded antibody testing in the future.
  • Asked about presumptive cases, Dr. Smith discouraged reporting presumptive cases since there was ample testing capability available.

Mike Preston: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce (DOC)

  • There is currently $778 million in the Unemployment Insurance (UI) trust fund, which is capped at $1 billion. $109 million in UI payments have been made to Arkansans from that fund.  An additional $248 million in payments have been made from funds made available due to the CARES Act.  A total of $357.9 million has been paid to date to Arkansans.
  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program has received 30,000 applicants.  An email went out to applicants describing the process moving forward with the plan to have payments sent out the week of May 18.
The Governor’s Daily Press Conferences can be watched here.

 

 

5/13/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 72 additional cases since yesterday, May 12, for a total of 4,236 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 72 cases, one is from a correctional facility and five from St. Francis County, where the Federal Prison is located.  There are now 862 active cases with 295 in correctional facilities, 90 in nursing homes and 477 in the community.  There have been 3,277 recoveries.  Total deaths—97.  There are 64 hospitalized patients, with 13 on ventilators.

 

There have been 900 inmates and 60 staff test positive, and seven inmate deaths, at Cummins State Prison.  48 inmates and two employees at the Randall Williams unit in Pine Bluff have tested positive.  Every inmate has been tested there.  Three more inmates have tested positive at the Federal Prison in Forrest City.  The CDC will conclude their testing tomorrow, May 14.

 

51 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection.  316 nursing home residents and 176 staff have tested positive.  33 nursing home residents have died.

 

2,278 tests were done yesterday, May 12, with a positivity rate of 2.2%.  23,949 tests were performed in May, out of 73,215 total.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives announced today, May 13.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor showed a slide of active cases by county.  Pulaski County, the large counties surrounding Pulaski (such as Faulkner and Saline Counties), counties in the Delta (such as St. Francis and Jefferson), and Northwest Arkansas counties had the most active cases.
  • To prevent the possibility of a resurgence this fall, the Governor wants to ensure the state has adequate testing.  The Governor used a war metaphor and said testing is like radar.  It gives early warning capability of where an attack (uptick) will occur.
  • The Governor said he was pleased when LaShannon Spencer, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas (CHCA), said CHCA needed swabs, and Dr. Smith said the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has them.
  • The Governor said he would be disappointed and there would be consequences should the concert promoter scheduled for Friday in Fort Smith defy ADH’s cease and desist letter.  While he didn’t want to speculate, the Governor said ADH can utilize local law enforcement or other remedies, but he hopes common sense will prevail.  The Governor reiterated that it set a bad precedent for one party not to comply when you have others who recognize the potential public health consequences and have complied.
  • Asked about testing requirements for colleges this fall, the Governor said he is working with higher education institutions on the exact protocols.  He anticipates rapid testing of those that are symptomatic, or in other particular situations, but not testing all students.
  • When asked about expanded absentee balloting for the fall, the Governor said he is thinking about it but is not prepared to make a decision right now.  He’s in favor of no-excuse absentee voting but his emergency powers don’t extend through November, so a decision will have to be made as the circumstances, or whether there is an emergency, are better known in the fall.  If there is an emergency, he could use emergency powers to provide for no-excuse absentee balloting like he has for special elections this spring.
  • Asked about the Congressional Democratic proposal to provide additional funds to local governments and states, the Governor indicated that he thought that proposal was not close to being a done deal.  He recognized that cities and counties have incurred costs and have budget strains, but from the state’s standpoint, he was pleased with the CARES Act current flexibility for Arkansas.  The Governor was worried about additional stimulus bills causing the national debt to rise.  Arkansas doesn’t need help with budget shortfall, Arkansas can manage its budget through carefully cutting expenses, and he doesn’t believe it’s prudent to bail out states for decisions made before the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Asked about applicants for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system receiving notifications that they needed to provide additional paperwork because of an issue with the system, the Governor said that was part of the testing process to improve the system.  The expectation is that the PUA system will have checks issued by the end of the month, but he wants to ensure the state communicates clearly with applicants so they know what to expect.
  • Asked about an upcoming popular political event where there are chuckwagon races, the Governor encouraged the sponsors to read guidelines and if any part of their plan needed approval, that they would work closely with ADH to ensure compliance.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • 38.8% of positive cases have been African-Americans and 38.9% of deaths have been African-Americans.  Dr. Smith said it was a good sign that there wasn’t a disparity between the two.  Ages 25-44 had the highest percentage of positive cases at 38.7%.  Those 65+ were only 15.9% of the positive cases, but 71.6% of deaths.
  • As far as increasing testing, UAMS and Baptist Hospital will screen all new admissions, and Dr. Smith hopes all hospitals will do that as well.  More testing could be done at Long Term Care Facilities, so they will examine that possibility, along with dialysis centers and emergency departments.  ADH wants to be strategic in deploying tests.
  • While some organizations have said Arkansas needs 900 contact tracers, Dr. Smith believes Arkansas’s goal of 350 is appropriate.  Arkansas currently has over 200. Arkansas will strategically use technology, and analysis, to best use contract tracing resources.
  • Asked about the seven-day rolling average, Dr. Smith said it is hard to know day to day where the trajectory is going.  You must look more deeply at the granular data, because knowing the reason for an increase is more important than knowing the total numbers.
  • Asked how the concert was different from church services, Dr. Smith said each setting’s directive was based on public health guidance, and that there were key distinctions, such as the fact that there would be people from several different states expected at the concert.
  • Dr. Smith is still reviewing Oaklawn’s plan to reopen their casino, and has not made a decision, but he was very impressed.  He said the plan looked very comprehensive.  All three casinos have taken their responsibilities very seriously and provided very detailed measures to make their facilities as safe and clean as possible.

LaShannon Spencer: CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas (CHCA)

  • CHCA stands in partnership to expand testing with ADH, committing to doing 2,000 tests a week to reach the goal of 60,000 tests in May.  CHCA can do drive-through testing, in tents, and for those without insurance.  CHCA also offers telehealth services.
  • CHCA have been doing about 200 tests a week previously.  In certain Delta counties, CHCA is working with faith leaders to do Sunday testing.

Bo Ryall: Executive Director of the Arkansas Health Association

  • Bo wants to ensure those in the community are aware of the availability of testing and accept the opportunity to be tested.  He requested that anyone experiencing symptoms get tested.  Hospitals are publicizing the need for testing within their communities.  He also requested that if you are delaying medical treatment, please follow up to schedule an appointment.
  • It is National Hospital Week and he wanted to recognize the true heroes, healthcare workers.
  • Bo indicated hospitals have sufficient personal protective equipment right now and are in good shape with testing.

 

 

5/12/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 121 additional cases since yesterday, May 11, for a total of 4,164 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Of those 121 cases, 21 are from correctional facilities and 27 from St. Francis County, where the Federal Prison is located.  There are now 849 active cases and 3,220 recoveries.  Total deaths—95.  There are 59 hospitalized patients, with 12 on ventilators.

 

There have been 900 inmates and 60 staff test positive, and seven inmate deaths, at Cummins State Prison.  50 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection.  299 nursing home residents and 174 staff have tested positive.  33 nursing home residents have died.

 

1,753 tests were done yesterday, May 11.  The Governor plans to announce an initiative tomorrow, May 13, to increase testing.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor is not alarmed if there are spikes, but if there are spikes several days in a row or if there is evidence it could be community spread, like in Forrest City, he becomes more concerned.
  • The Governor spoke of Dr. Fauci’s concern that we will see little spikes that turn into outbreaks with states reopening their economies too soon.  The Governor thinks Dr. Fauci is talking about states that didn’t go through the gating criteria for Phase I, whereas Arkansas followed the gating criteria.  The Governor noted that while overall tests didn’t go down for 14 straight days, that wasn’t the only criteria for entering Phase I.  There were two alternatives: a decline in cases or positivity rates, and Arkansas had a decline in positivity rates.  The Governor emphasized that Arkansas follows CDC guidelines and will continue to increase testing and contact tracing so hopefully Arkansas can enter Phase II.
  • The Governor announced that Arkansas received 50 doses of Remdesivir, which is being used to treat COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.  The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) will administer the doses and provide them to doctors who deem it appropriate for their patients.
  • The Governor announced that he will make a decision on reopening bars on May 18 and allowing summer camps and team sports on May 20.
  • Regarding the concert in Fort Smith scheduled for three days before it would be allowed by the ADH directive, the Governor said that their plan was not approved by ADH, so the promoters could receive a cease and desist letter.  The Governor said businesses can’t just arbitrarily decide when it is best to reopen because ADH had used scientific criteria to determine dates and specifics that were in the best interest of public health.  He said the concert promoter set a bad example.
  • Asked about Louisiana entering Phase I on Friday, May 15, the Governor doesn’t see a challenge with border cities, as he mentioned cases in Arkansas border towns are down compared with across state lines.
  • The Governor has not made a formal decision on when to reopen schools this fall, but there will be in-person education.  The Governor receives feedback from educators, parents, and his Department of Education.
  • Arkansans are integral for preventing spread.  Individual discipline and respect for the rules are vitally important in preventing outbreaks.  The state can only identify cases with testing and go in and do contact testing to isolate it, so the spike doesn’t become an outbreak.
  • The Governor reiterated that masks should be worn in restaurants and it is not up to the owners to make that decision.
  • Regarding enforcing social distancing requirements, it is first up to owners and patrons to follow the guidelines, then ADH responds to complaints.
  • The Governor was briefed on contact tracing on Saturday, May 9, and how it works, due to the increase in cases this weekend.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith has not received any new reports from the Federal Prison in Forrest City.  ADH is working with community leaders to do more testing in Forrest City.  He has heard about a graduation party on Friday in Forrest City and said that it is not a good idea.
  • Dr. Smith said there are plenty of testing kits from the federal government and private facilities, so we need people to come forward to be tested.  Until we test all people with symptoms or those that have contact with them, he will not be comfortable.
  • 52 patients might meet the criteria for receiving Remdesivir.
  • Asked about a potential outbreak of cases in the Boars Head meat processing plant in Forrest City, Dr. Smith said he has heard no specific reports, but he has concerns with all businesses in that community.
  • Dr. Smith was asked about doctors, such as Dr. Fauci, criticizing states like Arkansas for re-opening too soon.  Dr. Smith said he respects those doctors and noted they have been very complimentary of Arkansas privately.  He believes that they would be supportive of him making decisions based on what is going on in Arkansas versus reading the criticism in the newspaper.  Dr. Smith noted he has worked closely with the Governor and they are making decisions that involve politics, but are not driven by political pressure.
  • Asked about when a spike became an outbreak, Dr. Smith mentioned it was completely contextual.  Dr. Smith mentioned the early outbreak in Cleburne County, where there were 50 cases in a county with a low population.
  • Dr. Smith believes that Arkansas’s approach of rapidly testing when an individual tests positive in a nursing home is a better approach than just testing everyone.  Dr. Smith believes testing everyone leads to more issues that don’t necessarily keep the population of residents and staff safer.
  • Regarding poultry plants and the question of whether undocumented workers may not want to get tested, Dr. Smith doesn’t believe that is an issue.  Dr. Smith said ADH works closely with both the companies and their diverse workforce, and isn’t concerned about a lack of sharing of information by the companies because ADH can do contact tracing.

 

 

5/11/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 296 additional cases since Friday, May 8, for a total of 4,033 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. The large spike occurred on Saturday, May 9, and came from extensive correctional facility testing. Total deaths—94. There have been seven deaths at Cummins State Prison. There are 61 hospitalized patients, with 11 on ventilators. There are now 803 active cases, with 278 at correctional facilities and 86 at nursing homes, and 3,149 recoveries. 49 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection. 289 nursing home residents and 172 staff have tested positive. 33 nursing home residents have died.

 

Approximately 2,700 tests were done over the week. The Governor spoke of the need for more tests to be done to accomplish the goal of 60,000 tests in May.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Representative Matthew Shepard: Speaker of the House of Representatives

  • Speaker Shepherd spoke first and mentioned that he invited the Governor to El Dorado, Arkansas, in light of the news Murphy Oil is relocating to Houston, Texas. Speaker Shepherd told everyone that El Dorado is doing okay, and while the loss of Murphy Oil stung, they still have Murphy USA, a multi-state gas station chain that employs over 600 people in El Dorado. The El Dorado Promise, which provides college scholarships to public school students from El Dorado, will continue to be funded.

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor held his Press Conference in El Dorado to show support for El Dorado and south Arkansas. The Governor discussed the importance of El Dorado and the broad, diverse south Arkansas economy, to the overall health of the Arkansas economy.
  • The Governor spoke of how the COVID-19 pandemic is both a health and economic crisis, but that Arkansas weathered the economic storm and is in a good economic position because the state took a tailored approach, and didn’t completely shut-down. The Governor mentioned the state’s budget was in decent shape, all things considered, and that the state has $780 million in a reserve fund for unemployment insurance.
  • The Governor was asked about the concert planned for May 15 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, three days before the date allowed under the large indoor facility directive that would allow for a concert to take place. The Governor said they are in discussions with the promoter, but that the concert would be in violation of the directive, and the promoter’s plan is insufficient for ensuring the health and safety of the patrons.
  • The Governor was asked about social media posts this weekend where shoppers were not abiding by social distancing requirements. The Governor said it doesn’t give him pause; it may have still occurred if the state was sheltering in place. The Governor said 90% of businesses were doing the right thing and when they do, patrons are taking it seriously.
  • The Governor was asked about restaurants believing that their limitations are unfair compared to retailers. The Governor said he’s in a tough spot because some restaurants think it’s too soon to reopen, while others think that there shouldn’t be any restrictions. The Governor said that while there are a lot of options, he and ADH used their best judgment for the right health standard. He did note that Texas only allowed 20% occupancy for restaurants when they reopened.
  • When asked about enforcement of directives, the Governor mentioned that first and foremost, the state relied on the good judgment of Arkansans. He then highlighted that Park Rangers at State Parks would remind patrons of their social distancing obligations instead of acting on the ADH directives first. He also mentioned that when he was notified of violations taking place, he would remind the managers of businesses of their responsibilities. Lastly, the Governor said that they could enforce directives if compliance could not be coerced.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith stated that it’s important that Arkansans have confidence in the safety of going to medical facilities. He mentioned a conversation with his in-laws, where his father-in-law stated he was afraid of a doctor’s appointment this morning. Dr. Smith made the case for the safety and importance of going, and his father-in-law went to the appointment. Dr. Smith noted that we need to encourage ourselves and others to get needed healthcare.
  • Dr. Smith spoke about the importance of testing and preventing new clusters and outbreaks. He mentioned that there have been 500 tests done in Union County, where El Dorado is located. That’s a good start, he mentioned, but put in perspective, only 131 tests per 10,000 people were being done in Union County, versus 233 per 10,000 statewide.
  • Dr. Smith was asked about infections at Human Development Centers (HDC). Dr. Smith said HDC were considered congregate settings, so they followed positive cases at an HDC closely. He doesn’t know how many cases have occurred at HDC, but there have been no major outbreaks recently.
  • Dr. Smith mentioned that the purpose of ADH directives are to keep people safe. Dr. Smith gave examples of what could occur for violations of directives: individuals could receive an Order of Quarantine, ADH licensed businesses could lose their license, and non-ADH licensed businesses could receive Cease and Desist letters. ADH prefers not to take these measures unless they have to.
  • In response to a question about the difference between retailers and restaurants, Dr. Smith said that retailers have less face-to-face contact and personal interaction with patrons than restaurants. Dr. Smith said in restaurants, generally, you have people sitting in one place for a lengthy period of time breathing the same indoor air, whereas in retail establishments, generally, interactions are rarer and quicker.
  • The Governor re-emphasized that youth and team sports are not allowed, and a decision will be made in late May.

Mike Preston: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce (DOC)

  • The DOC issued over 100,000 unemployment checks this week. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) portal for the self-employed and gig workers is operational, and they received 23,000 applications. They are running tests to determine eligibility and plan to issue checks in the next couple weeks.
  • Secretary Preston mentioned that Arkansas was in better shape than many states.
  • Secretary Preston thanked the legislature for approving the Arkansas Ready for Business grant funds. DOC received 12,300 applications, including 152 in Union County worth $2 million. In total, the state received requests worth $147.7 million for personal protective equipment (PPE), with 94% coming from businesses with less than 50 employees, and 46% were owned by women or minorities.

 

 

5/8/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 82 additional cases, with 12 from correctional facilities, since yesterday, May 7, for a total of 3,747 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—88.  There have been six deaths at Cummins State Prison and 896 total infections.  There are 64 hospitalized patients, down six from yesterday.  There are now 691 active cases, with 131 at correctional facilities and 89 at nursing homes, and 2,968 recoveries, up 101 from yesterday.  48 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection.  270 nursing home residents and 160 staff have tested positive.  33 nursing home residents have died.

 

2,355 tests were done yesterday, May 7, with a 2.1% positivity rate.  Overall, there has been a 5.8% positivity rate, much lower than the World Health Organization recommendation of 10%.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives issued today, May 8.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Major Announcement: Beginning May 22, pools, splash pads, and water parks can reopen with the following requirements:
    • No entry if fever, symptoms, or contact with positive patient
    • 50% capacity maximum
    • Six-foot physical distancing in all areas
    • Markings to note distancing
    • Disinfect high-touch areas frequently
    • Tables and chairs six-feet apart
    • Maintain pool chemistry with twice-daily pH testing
    • Lifeguard training can begin today.
  • The Governor thanked the legislature for approving $147 million in funds for the Ready for Business Grant Program and money for healthcare workers.  There is approximately $825 million still available from the Federal CARES Act funding.
  • The Governor’s slide presentation noted:
    • The seven-day rolling average demonstrates that we have plateaued with cases.
    • Active cases are on a downward trend.
    • Percentage of positive cases is less than 5%, which is much lower than many states.
  • The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) came up with a plan to accomplish the goal of 60,000 tests:
  • Use the 70 local ADH health units for testing;
    • All expectant moms receive tests;
    • Pre-surgical testing;
    • Utilize Abbott point of care machines that haven’t had adequate kits; and
    • Utilize the ADH minority health commission mobile lab.
  • The Governor hopes furloughed healthcare workers can be brought back to work as elective procedures increase.  Those furloughed workers may still be eligible for the direct care payments, as the intent is for the payments to be retroactive.  Hospitals have received direct funds from the CARES Act funds, as well.
  • The Governor said ADH is working with a concert promoter who is planning a concert on May 15, three days before it would be allowed by the ADH directive.  They are working to ensure compliance with all requirements and are concerned that it could lead to a bad precedent if they did not enforce the directive.
  • Employees who become ill with COVID-19 would be covered by Workers Compensation.  For those that are concerned, and unwilling to work, that is an issue between them and their employer.  It’s unresolved in the law, but the Governor hopes that employers will do the right thing.
  • The Governor does not have details on when the first Pandemic Unemployment Assistance check will be issued, but the website is operational and they are processing claims.
  • Regarding casinos potentially being allowed to have more people inside than other large venues, the Governor said they will amend the large venue directive to provide more consistency.
  • The 14-day period for Phase I began May 4, so the best case scenario is Phase II beginning on May 18.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The restrictions on elective procedures will be eased to allow for overnight stays up to 48 hours.
  • The casino reopening directive will be similar to the directive for large indoor facilities, but each casino will be required to prepare a unique plan for their facility, which must be approved by the ADH.  The ⅓ occupancy requirement is very important.
  • Dr. Smith was asked about three infections within the Little Rock School District.  He said that ADH balances the need to protect the public with privacy considerations.  There are instances where the need to protect the public health outweighs privacy concerns, but they consider that on a case-by-case basis.
  • The goal of testing 60,000 in May would be 2% of the population.  The 2% figure came from the CDC, and Dr. Smith is unaware of why the CDC recommends that amount.  To him, the key is how you test, not the number of tests.
  • Dr. Smith said that Arkansas has done a good job compared to other states regarding large outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons.  He doesn’t see the outbreak at Cummins State Prison as an issue with a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • ADH has 200 employees working on contact tracing but would like to increase that number to 350.  The issue is not just numbers, but the number of trained workers with the right technology to produce actionable information.

Dr. Cam Patterson: Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS)

  • Dr. Patterson said UAMS has performed over 6,000 tests, with 1,200 done by their mobile testing unit.  They have a low single-digit infection percentage with their mobile unit.
  • The mobile testing unit will be in Forrest City for a fourth time.  Because the numbers have gone up every time they have been there, they want to continue to monitor the area because of the large number of positive cases at the Federal Prison.
  • The in-patient burden from COVID-19 has decreased.  UAMS only has seven COVID-19 patients and three presumptive cases.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Economic Recovery Task Force

  • The Economic Recovery Task Force launched the website https://www.arkansasready.com/ with the social media handle “Arkansas Ready,” to provide tools and information on reopening Arkansas’s economy.  It will include sources on obtaining PPE.
  • Steuart, a pilot, will be leading a Unite Arkansas Flyover tomorrow, May 9.  The airplanes will be flying around Arkansas to show appreciation for all those that have worked hard during these difficult times.

 

 

5/7/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 97 additional cases, with 30 from correctional facilities, since yesterday, May 6, for a total of 3,665 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Total deaths—88. There have been six deaths at Cummins State Prison and 881 total infections. There are 70 hospitalized patients. Dr. Smith stated that after reclassifying cases, there are now 710 active cases and 2,867 recoveries. 47 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection. 266 nursing home residents and 155 staff have tested positive. 33 nursing home residents have died.

 

There have been 326 positive cases at the Federal Prison in Forrest City.

 

2,174 tests were done yesterday, May 6, with a 3.7% positive rate. Dr. Smith hopes that doing 2,000+ tests daily becomes the new normal.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders or directives issued today.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Major Announcement: Beginning May 18, casinos can reopen with ⅓ capacity and stringent social distancing requirements. The casinos have presented proposals demonstrating their ability to accomplish those requirements. Dr. Smith will work on preparing a directive.
  • The Governor’s slide presentation noted:
    • There has been an uptick in cases the past two days, which the Governor predicted, due to increased testing and prison cases. The goal is to keep the trend downward long-term.
    • Hospitalizations are down again.
    • The Governor showed a new slide on active cases and commented that they are on a steep decline.
  • The Governor re-emphasized that the state is in Phase I, and carefully lifting restrictions, but Phase II means that the state avoids resurgence in cases during the next 14 days.
  • The Governor communicates regularly with governors from surrounding states, including their plans to lift restrictions. They understand that what happens in one state is not indicative of what is going on in other states.
  • The Governor said he came to Texarkana to take his message outside of Little Rock, because Texarkana is a border city, and because Texarkana is very important to the state’s economy.
  • If there are any spikes in cases moving forward, they will have to study them very carefully, and if they can be controlled, then it won’t detract from the goal of entering Phase II. Contact tracing will be very important in preventing resurgence in the next 14 days because it will help the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) understand the trends to address outbreaks before they occur.
  • A decision on recreational team sports will occur later in May.
  • The Governor understands how important the oil and gas industry is to South Arkansas, but with falling oil prices, independent producers can’t justify bringing oil out of the ground if they can’t sell it. The Governor has directed the Oil and Gas Commission to look at ways to help struggling oil and gas producers in Arkansas. The Governor issued EO 20-24, which allows the Oil and Gas Commission to waive fees for oil and gas producers.
  • The Governor is pleased that reopened businesses have been following the state’s guidelines.
  • The Governor said he was proud to have such a well-respected expert in Dr. Smith leading ADH.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Dr. Smith stated that the CDC Director called and said he was impressed with the low number of cases in Arkansas and how Arkansas was able to simultaneously keep its economy open. The CDC Director said Arkansas was a good example for other states. Dr. Smith said he was very pleased because it’s a false choice between having to choose the economy or lives. The goal is to recover the economy as quickly and safely as possible. The key is increased testing and contact tracing. People don’t want to come to a state or leave home if there is an out-of-control outbreak.
  • Dr. Smith said Texarkana was not a hotspot when you consider hotspots from around the Country. Dr. Smith said that Texarkana and Southwest Arkansas are seeing an increase in positive cases, so the community needs to pay attention and continue testing.
  • Dr. Smith said sharing of contact tracing information happens frequently between states. Dr. Smith is the national president of the association of state medical directors and has a good relationship and is in close contact with medical directors across the south.

Allen Brown: Mayor of Texarkana, Arkansas

  • The Mayor commended the Governor for his commitment to helping everyone statewide. Mayor Brown said the Governor has stressed consistency and following ADH directives. Mayor Brown urged his citizens to follow the ADH directives so businesses can continue to be reopened in Texarkana.

 

 

5/6/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 72 additional cases, with 20 from correctional facilities, since yesterday, May 5, for a total of 3,568 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. Total deaths—85. There have been six deaths at Cummins State Prison and 896 total infections. There are 69 hospitalized patients, a net decrease of 20. There are now 1,374 active cases and 2,109 recoveries. 45 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection. 264 nursing home residents and 149 staff have tested positive. There have been 33 deaths of nursing home residents. There have been 301 positive cases at the Federal Prison in Forrest City, up 37 from yesterday, May 5.

 

1,682 tests were done yesterday, May 5.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

The Governor’s slide presentation noted:
  1. Arkansas has less than 20 hospitalizations per 100,000 and is doing well in comparison to other southern states.
  2. Arkansas has some of the lowest numbers of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 when compared to other southern states.
  3. Arkansas is doing close to 2,000 tests per 100,000, ranking in the middle range compared to other states.
  4. The two highest growth rates among age groups in Arkansas are 18-24 and 65+.
  • The Governor received a commitment from the CDC whereby the CDC will provide 90,000 test kits and swabs in May.  The state is waiting for its first shipment this week and should receive a shipment every week.  The internal goal is to perform 60,000 tests in May, which will require that over 2,000 daily tests be done the rest of the month, compared to a historical average of approximately 1,000 a day.  The Governor has asked Dr. Smith to come up with recommendations to accomplish that goal.  The Governor expects to continue to receive 90,000 test kits and swabs from the CDC every month moving forward.
  • The Governor issued EO 20-24 yesterday, May 5, to help the oil and gas industry in south Arkansas.  It allows the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to waive fees to give some relief to the oil and gas industry.
  • The Governor expects to issue guidelines for graduations closer to July 1, because he hopes and expects to see improvement regarding COVID-19 between now and then.
  • The Governor said that the Department of Corrections is trying to recruit employees as fast as they can, and provide competitive pay, to help with their staff shortage.
  • The Governor brought up visiting multiple businesses last weekend.  Some did a good job of abiding by guidance on social distancing and preventative measure, while others did not.  The Governor stressed the importance of everyone doing their part to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • The Governor will be in Texarkana tomorrow, May 7, where he will learn more about the issues of being a border town during COVID-19.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The COVID 19 Dental Advisory Board met yesterday, May 5, and discussed the directive preventing all non-urgent treatment until May 18.  It was determined, after input from the Dental Association that dentists have put into place sufficient protocols to protect their staff and patients, and have sufficient PPE, that the restrictions will be lifted on May 11.  ADH will work with the Dental Board to ensure compliance, including unannounced visits.
  • Dr. Smith provided the following breakdown on the percent of cases by age range in Arkansas:
    • Ages 0-17: 3.2%
    • Ages 18-24: 8.3%
    • Ages 25-44: 38%
    • Ages 45-64: 33.6%
    • Ages 65+: 16.9%
  • Because of the large percentage of cases for individuals younger than 65, Dr. Smith said they could not just focus on testing the older population.
  • Dr. Smith stated that the most rapid increase in cases the past two days are from Texarkana, Jonesboro, West Memphis and Forrest City. UAMS has performed mobile tests in Forrest City three times, and there are still more cases, so it could be associated with the Federal Prison.  The total number of cases in Forrest City is still less than other locations. Dr. Smith had no explanation why Jonesboro had an increasing number of cases, but West Memphis and Texarkana could be because they are border cities, and there are a larger number of cases in Memphis and Texas.
  • While many of those that have been hospitalized or passed away had underlying conditions, others did not. Underlying conditions do not impact who becomes infected with COVID-19, it just increases your chances of hospitalization or death.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Economic Recovery Task Force

  • Steuart is encouraged by progress he is seeing and believes important steps are being undertaken to reopen the economy.
  • On May 8, a website will go live with a consolidated list of guidelines and resources for businesses.
  • It is important for Arkansas businesses to lead by example.  They need to follow the guidelines so their employees and patrons will follow them as well.
  • Steuart noted he was impressed with Rock Town Distillery pivoting to producing hand sanitizer.

 

 

5/5/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 38 additional cases, with four from correctional facilities, since yesterday, May 4, for a total of 3,496 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—83.  There have been five deaths at Cummins State Prison and 876 total infections.  There are 89 hospitalized patients.  There are now 1,364 active cases and 2,050 recoveries.  45 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection.  261 nursing home residents and 148 staff have tested positive.  There have been 32 deaths of nursing home residents.

 

There have been 264 positive cases at the Federal Prison in Forrest City, up 92 from yesterday, May 4.
1,270 tests were done yesterday, May 4.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Major Announcement: The Governor signed a proclamation extending the emergency declaration for an additional 45 days. He had the authority to extend it for another 60 days but he will reevaluate in 45 days.  All directives are incorporated and reaffirmed through the latest proclamation.
  • Major Announcement: The restriction on recreational travelers is lifted for non-hotspots. Hotspots include NY, NJ, CT, and New Orleans. The directive will give the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) the authority to determine hotspots.  If you come from a hotspot, you’re expected to self-quarantine for 14-days.  The objective is to allow hotels and lodges to take in visitors from neighboring states.
  • The Governor showed a slide from the CDC that compared states and demonstrated that over the last seven days, cases were on the decline in Arkansas. The Governor reinforced this with a CNN slide showing that Arkansas was one of 15 states with cases going down.
  • The Governor addressed Arkansas’s economic situation. Yesterday, May 5, the state’s revenue report showed that state revenue was down 28.3% from a year ago.  The Governor indicated that they revised the revenue forecast knowing there would be a downturn, and he is pleased the revised revenue forecast beat their projections.  The Governor said this shows that Arkansas has taken a hit, but not the same nosedive as other states.  
  • The Governor acknowledged that there will be a spike due to additional testing at the Cummins State Prison and cases at the Federal Prison in Forrest City. They will keep a close eye to ensure that those cases don’t lead to community spread.
  • The Governor said that the state will work closely with the National Park Service about reopening the Buffalo River National Park.
  • The Governor has not had any discussions with the Arkansas Secretary of State about reopening the Capitol but plans to soon. The Governor stated that telecommuting is the best option for Phase I, but he has begun discussions with Amy Fetcher, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services, about re-evaluating and planning for state employees to return to the workplace, consistent with protocols set out for the private sector, in the upcoming weeks.
  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Portal went live today, May 5.
  • The trust fund for unemployment insurance is in good shape, and it’s too early to evaluate for the long-term. Arkansas is not in the same position as California and Illinois.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Regarding the criteria for hotspots, Dr. Smith said it’s not a technical definition but a matter of where there are increasing cases or a high number of cases. The best place to look for where these areas may be is on the Johns Hopkins website, where they have a map showing the COVID-19 hotspots.  The state is trying to be welcoming and open, but protective of its citizens.  They don’t want to add hotspots, but take them off as the country recovers.  To get off the hotspot list, there would need to be a downward trajectory in cases.
  • Cummins State Prison has allowed asymptomatic but COVID-19 positive employees to work. This has occurred only when there is a critical employee shortage.  They would prefer that a COVID-19 positive employee self-isolate, but sometimes that’s not an option for maximum security prisons.  If a COVID-19 employee is working, it is only around other employees and inmates that have tested positive, and while wearing PPE.  ADH expects to test two more barracks with approximately 100 inmates.
  • Sports practices fall into criteria for outdoor and indoor events and will be re-evaluated later in May. Smith said that ADH worries more about spectators and concession workers than the participants.
  • ADH is working on guidelines, expected later this week, for recreational pools, to help them open as quickly as possible, but with the proper precautions in place.
  • It was brought up that a concert was being promoted for May 15. Smith said ADH would work with the promoters and anyone who they find out may be in violation of a directive first, to ensure they understand the rules, but, if necessary, ADH can work with local law enforcement and the State Police to ensure compliance with directives.

Stacy Hurst: Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

  • DAH is working with the hospitality industry to ensure the protocols for lifting the restrictions on out-of-state visitors to ensure employee and patron safety. Secretary Hurst said she was aware that some national chains are developing protocols and said Arkansas State Parks will utilize CDC and ADH guidance.
  • DAH will work to get this directive out to stakeholders clearly and broadly, and they are available to answer any questions.
  • The previous directive on State Parks lodging will incorporate this new directive.

 

 

5/4/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 27 additional cases, with 14 from correctional facilities, since yesterday, May 3, for a total of 3,458 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—81.  There have been five deaths at Cummins State Prison and 873 total infections.  There are 91 hospitalized patients.  There are now 1,362 active cases and 2,016 recoveries.  45 different nursing homes have seen at least one infection.  245 nursing home residents have tested positive and 145 staff.

 

1,629 tests were done yesterday, May 3.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There have been no executive orders or directives issued since Friday, May 1.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Major Announcement: Large Outdoor Venues and Places of Worship can reopen May 4 and Large Indoor Facilities can reopen May 18.
  • The following are the guidelines for large indoor and outdoor venues, with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) issuing a more detailed directive soon:
    • 12-foot distance between performers and audience.
    • 50 or fewer performers/players/contestants.
    • Audience of 50 or fewer people.
    • Six-foot distancing for seating except for family groups.
    • Every other row should be unoccupied.
    • Face coverings for all attendees over 10 years of age.
    • Refreshments allowed but no self-service.
    • No entry if having a recent fever or other symptoms.
  • The following are the guidelines for places of worship, with ADH issuing a more detailed directive soon:
    • Online platforms strongly encouraged.
    • No entry if having a recent fever or other symptoms.
    • Six-foot distancing except for family groups.
    • No physical contact.
    • Refrain from having people come forward to a common altar for communion, blessing, etc.
    • Face coverings must be worn by all attendees over 10 years of age.
    • Hand sanitation stations at all entrances.
    • Eliminate use of multiple touch items like collection plates and shared books.
    • No classes for youth or childcare.
  • The Governor stressed that the restrictions for worship services were guidance, not directives.
  • The Governor mentioned that the large outdoor events were for events such as rodeos, parades and community events.
  • The Governor stated that the state had worked hard to meet the Phase I Gating Criteria from the President’s Opening Up American Again (OUAA) Plan. To get to Phase II there will have to be 14 days without a resurgence in cases and hospitalizations, so we must stick with social distancing measures. While the Governor understands that some would want more done, we must be careful and remember that we remain in a pandemic.
  • The Governor brought up the Ready For Business Grant Program, which was approved last night by the Legislative Council with some changes. Here are the details:
    • $55 million total will be open to all industry sectors.
    • 15% of the $55 million is for women and minority-owned businesses and 75% for businesses that have less than 50 employees.
    • Businesses will be eligible for $1,000 per full-time employee with a $100,000 cap per company.
    • Previous applicants don’t have to apply again.
    • The website will re-open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. tomorrow, May 5, and close at 6 p.m. on May 6.
    • The application process includes a driver’s license, signed W-9, and certificate of good standing.
    • They will address the need for additional money if needed.
  • The Governor thinks it’s exciting, optimistic and hopefully realistic that the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees plan to have in-person education this fall. The University of Arkansas Athletics Department plans to have student-athletes back on July 15.  The Governor knows that they’ll work with ADH and other SEC schools’ Departments of Health.
  • The Governor will extend the state’s emergency declaration that ends May 11.
  • The Governor expects to see some spikes in infections moving forward but the hope is that because of contact tracing we can quickly identify and control them so we don’t pull back on the reopening of the economy.
  • There will be an announcement in mid to late May regarding kids’ sports and team sports.
  • The Governor speaks with mayors fairly regularly, and it is up to them to lift curfews.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • The large indoor venue announcement does not include casinos. There will be a separate directive for casinos that will go out around May 18. Whether they reopen depends on their plans and what they plan to do to mitigate potential infections.
  • The reason for the 50 person maximum restriction is because 50 people is manageable for a contact investigation, while more than that would make a contact investigation very difficult.
  • Smith said that little kids can play together in outdoor facilities if there are less than 50 and they follow the rest of today’s directive.
  • Smith and the Governor are not concerned about Dr. Birx’s comments about it being too soon to allow for barbers, salons, and spas to reopen. They believe the right protocols are in place, which is being done gradually, based on the President’s OUAA framework.  Arkansas’s approach is phased in to better pinpoint if there is a resurgence, which allows you to be prepared.
  • Smith learned a lot from the early outbreak from a church in Cleburne County. They learned of the risks associated with COVID-19 with large congregate settings so we must remain the most vigilant in those settings.
  • Smith hopes that industries will remain highly motivated to prevent infections of their employees and patrons. Most of their enforcement is driven by complaints but ADH does inspect beyond that. It will be important for patrons to take these measures seriously, as well.
  • The Pulaski County Jail has worked with ADH regarding the inmate who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • The most sensitive indicator for a resurgence will be an outbreak associated with an event. They will also continue to look at the number of new cases and the percentage of positive cases.
  • According to the OUAA, the target date for Phase II would be 14 days of stable or decreasing case count and hospitalizations.

Dexter Payne: Director of the Arkansas Department of Corrections (DOC)

  • Six inmates at State prisons have been hospitalized. There have been 1931 inmates tested at Cummins.  The first group that tested positive has ended their 14 quarantine period.  DOC is working with ADH on what they need to do to lift the lockdown. No inmates at other facilities have tested positive.  DOC has tested 65 inmates at 10 other facilities.  Throughout DOC, 70 employees have tested positive, with 54 at Cummins.
  • There was a minor disturbance at Cummins this past weekend, May 2 and 3, where inmates set fires in trash cans and broke windows. It was quelled in a timely manner and there were no injuries.

Mike Preston: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce

  • The Department of Workforce Services has been working with the Department of Finance and Administration all weekend to have the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) portal ready, hopefully, later this week. It has taken so long because the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system is decades-old and not compatible with a brand new system for a large group of people that don’t have the same criteria as what is needed for the UI system.

 

 

5/1/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 66 additional cases, with five from State Prisons, since yesterday, April 30, for a total of 3,321 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—64.  23 of those 64 deaths are from nursing homes.  There have been no new hospitalizations since yesterday.  The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) recategorized 668 cases (those that they have not heard from but are not in hospitals were presumed to be recovered).  Thus, there are now 1,973 recoveries, with 1,284 active cases.  There were seven new cases among patients at nursing homes, for a total of 229, and an additional seven nursing home staff tested positive, for a total of 142.  135 inmates at the Forrest City Federal Correctional Facility have tested positive, up 34 since yesterday, April 30.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
Key provisions include existing blanket CMS COVID-19 waivers, as well as, waivers pertaining to the following:
  • HIPPA
  • Administrative Activities
  • Hospitals
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities
  • Pharmacy
  • Service Authorization and Utilization Controls
  • Services and Supports to Combat COVID-19
  • Provider Participation and Conditions for Payment
The main takeaways are that these waivers will provide more latitude to hospitals and doctors if they experience a surge in patients due to COVID-19, and further expand the use of telemedicine.
Additionally, CMS also approved the following:
  • Screening Payment and Use of Mobile Clinics
  • Parental Consult payment
  • Virtual Check-in payment
  • Well Check services payments
  • Day Habilitation Enhanced Payments for Early Intervention Day Treatment and Adult Development Day Treatment services

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Major Announcement: Barbershops, salons, massage therapy facilities, body art facilities, and medical spa providers can reopen on May 6 with the following restrictions:
    • 10 or fewer people in the facility
    • Larger facilities cannot have more than 30% of stations operational
    • No walk-in appointments
    • Clients should wait outside or in cars until ready
    • Time set between appointments for cleaning
    • 6-foot distance between clients during appointments, in wait area
    • Client names, contact information recorded
    • Vulnerable populations should consider staying home
    • Face coverings required for staff (Clients must also wear as services permit)
    • Gloves should be worn
    • Hands must be washed before and after services
    • Screening of staff and clients
    • Postpone services if any symptoms, even if attributed to allergies
    • Thorough cleaning and disinfection
    • Barber and cosmetology schools are not included at this time
    • Phase II will include the following:
      • Increased number of people allowed inside
      • 6-foot distancing maintained
      • Screenings continue
      • Face coverings should be maintained
      • Allowing walk-ins can be considered
      • In-person instructions at barber and cosmetology schools
  • Phase III will be normal operations resumed while maintaining good infection control.
  • The Governor plans to get a haircut but isn’t confident that he will be able to get one anytime soon, due to the overwhelming demand for them. The normal enforcement mechanisms for these industries, inspections and acting on complaints, will be the inspection mechanisms that will be utilized for enforcing these rules.
  • The CARES Act Steering Committee met this morning, after the issues addressed by the Governor yesterday, April 30. After some concerns raised by legislators, an additional $85 million was approved, for a total of $100 million, at the urging of other legislators.  The Legislative Council will have to approve the $100 million, which the Governor hopes will be approved soon, as there has been an overwhelming demand.
  • Regarding evictions, the Governor said that he hopes that if a tenant is being evicted for non-payment of rent because of being laid off due to COVID-19, they will reach out to a non-profit because money was provided to the Arkansas Community Foundation to address these types of situations.
  • The Governor believes that the ACLU lawsuit arguing that the restrictions placed on elective medical procedures, specifically requiring a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours, is not an undue burden, and is consistent with 8th Circuit guidance.
  • The Governor believes that Arkansas is meeting the gating criteria for Phase I of President Trump’s Opening Up American Again (OUAA) Plan. The Governor stated that the focus is on the 14 days of cases going down, but there is flexibility, and the trajectory is going down.
  • Recently the Mayor of Jacksonville refused to open storm shelters during storms because of the guidance saying 10 or more people could not be in a facility. The Governor clarified that in emergency situations, you can waive rules to do what is necessary to save lives.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • With the Governor’s blessing, Dr. Smith will be appointing a COVID-19 dental advisory committee that will provide input for the directive regarding the easing of restrictions on dental procedures set for May 18. Dentists and dental hygienists will be represented on the advisory committee, and the expectation is that they will meet next week.
  • Smith agreed with the Governor’s comments on Arkansas meeting the Phase I gating criteria from the OUAA Plan. Dr. Smith said the OUAA gating criteria are about determining how much community spread is taking place and how taxed medical resources are.  Dr. Smith said Arkansas is decreasing or has stable community transmission and the healthcare system is not taxed.  Dr. Smith determined this by looking at the low percentage of positive cases and the seven-day rolling average going down, amongst other criteria.

Dr. Michelle Smith: Director of the Office of Health Equity and HIV Elimination

  • Smith has been working very closely with barbershops and beauty salons.
  • Her role is to help eliminate health disparities among populations, working with stakeholders to find solutions to not only the higher prevalence of COVID-19 infections with minorities but underlying issues like hypertension and obesity.
  • There will be a webinar for barbers and beauty salons next week to provide resources, but there will not be minority specific COVID-19 testing.

Mike Preston: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce

  • If an employee feels uncomfortable coming back to work, and their employer is reopening, they will be unable to receive unemployment benefits. However, if the employer is not reopening, when entitled to, the employee could still receive unemployment benefits.
  • ADC should have the portal operational later this week for those seeking to obtain the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. ADC is testing the system currently.  Those that can begin work in May would still be entitled to recoup the funds retroactively.

 

 

4/30/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There have been 63 additional cases since yesterday, April 29, the lowest number of new cases in several days.  There have been a total of 3,255 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas, with 1,888 active cases.  Total deaths—61.  22 of those 61 deaths are from nursing homes.  There has been a 56 person increase in the number of recoveries, to 1,305.  Hospitalizations have gone up two to 95.  There are no new cases at State Prisons, but there are now 13 hospitalized, up two from yesterday, April 29.  The Federal Prison in Forrest City has 14 additional cases, for a total of 101.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • April 29 was the largest single-day of tests (2,520). There was a 1.5% positivity rate for those tests.
  • The Governor showed a slide with dates and the number of daily infections. He highlighted that the seven-day rolling average was on a downward trend.  He hopes history shows that April 25 was the peak.
  • Major Announcement: Gyms can reopen on May 4 with the following restrictions:
    • Screening for staff and patrons
    • No entry for:
      • Recent travelers to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Orleans, or overseas
      • Those with fever, symptoms, or recent contact with a COVID-19 patient
      • Anyone with a compromised immune system or chronic diseases
    • Temperature checks for staff
    • Face coverings for staff and patrons, except for when actively exercising
    • No pools, spas, showers, or saunas
    • Hand sanitizer available
    • Equipment sanitized after each use
    • 12-foot distancing while working out and during training sessions or classes
    • No personal contact
  • This announcement does not include team sports (such as basketball) or youth sports, which are prohibited until May 31, and will be re-evaluated in mid-to-late May.
  • The Governor stressed that social distancing restrictions are in place as we want to maintain a downward curve.
  • The Ready for Business grant program was pulled down after an hour of being online yesterday, April 29, because it had run out of the original $15 million allocated. The Governor was both incredibly surprised by the Ready for Business initiative’s success but acknowledged that it should not have gone online yesterday afternoon.  As mentioned yesterday at his press conference, it needed to be approved by the CARES Act Steering Committee and the Legislative Council.  The Governor said it was a simple miscommunication and he took responsibility.  The Governor did not believe that specific organizations or groups got inappropriate advance notice, but that the Department of Commerce notified all groups you would think would be interested in the grants.  The Governor will work with the legislature to determine if the $15 million amount should be increased based on the demonstrated demand.  Those that previously applied will have to apply again when the application goes online again, which the Governor believes will be early next week.
  • Over 2,300 businesses applied for over $35 million worth of Ready for Business grants. 92% of applicants had 50 or fewer employees, while 59% had fewer than 10.  Roughly $20 million of the $35 million in requests went to applicants with less than 50 employees.
  • Regarding potential liability for employers for employees or patrons getting infected by COVID-19 after restrictions are eased, the Governor stated there has been a lot of discussion but no resolution. The decision on whether to reopen has to be managed by individual employers.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Of the 2,520 tests done April 29, commercial labs tested 2,079.
  • Regarding elective procedures, commercial labs have stepped up. One, in particular, is AEL in Memphis, which will increase its capacity next week to 1,500 per day.  Of those, 1,000 are for Arkansas hospitals, and will ensure a roughly 24-hour turnaround time.
  • Smith believes the guidelines for gyms are the best place we can be right now for safe activities, but recognizes that smaller facilities may have difficulties, and asks them to be creative if possible.
  • There was a conference call April 29 with the Surgeon General and doctors that got a bit heated. Doctors believe that the requirements to do elective procedures are overly burdensome.  Smith understands the frustration but believes that increased lab capacity will help alleviate their concerns, and hopes to relax more criteria in the future.

Kelly Eichler: Co-owner of Little Rock Athletic Club (LRAC)

  • LRAC has prepared guidelines for their four gyms and are happy to provide them to any healthcare facility to help ensure they can meet the restrictions.
  • The three main principles are:
    1. a touchless experience as much as possible
    2. maintaining social distancing of 150 feet per person in classes
    3. constant sanitization.
  • LRAC will be having employees spread throughout their facilities, ensuring members have the necessary sanitary tools available.
  • Chancellor Patterson from UAMS reviewed their plan and agreed with everything except for wearing masks during cardio, so they cut that from their plans.

 

4/29/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 29, there are 3,192 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas, with 1,884  active cases.  Total deaths—59.  There has been a 103 person increase in the number of recoveries to 1249.  Hospitalizations have gone down 11 from 104 to 93.  There are 18 people on ventilators, which is a drop of two from yesterday, April 28.  One-third of the 59 deaths in Arkansas have been from nursing homes.  There are no new cases at correctional facilities. Of the 11 inmates hospitalized, one is in a field hospital at Cummins, three at UAMS, and seven at Jefferson Regional. Three are on ventilators.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:
  • There were no executive orders today or directives published today.

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • There are 81 additional COVID cases today, April 29, for a total of 3,192.  Hospitalizations have gone down 11 from 104 to 93.  There have been seven additional deaths for a total of 59 deaths.
  • The Governor said that it is heartbreaking the number of deaths at nursing homes, particularly because residents can’t see visitors. The high-risk nature of nursing homes was a reason why they were aggressively testing at nursing homes, and he said nursing homes have been good partners and vigilant in efforts to prevent COVID-19.
  • The Governor made two announcements today, April 29. The first announcement was that a directive will be issued later today for limited dine-in service for restaurants beginning May 11. Here are the details:
    • Physical distancing must be maintained between patrons.
    • Reservations are encouraged.
    • Face coverings are required for patrons and staff. Patrons can remove the mask when food is served.
    • Gloves are required for restaurant staff.
    • Daily screenings are required for restaurant staff.
    • Frequent hand washing is necessary.
    • Patrons should pre-order when possible.
    • No groups over 10 people.
    • A senior hour is encouraged.
    • No self-service.
    • Tables and menus must be cleaned and disinfected after each meal.
    • Bars and entertainment within restaurants are prohibited.
  • Restaurants are regulated by ADH, so ADH will remain in charge of ensuring enforcement.
  • Restaurants will be able to deny service. For instance, a restaurant could refuse service for a patron that comes in and refuses to don a mask.
  • You don’t have to wear a mask while eating at a restaurant.
  • You don’t have to sit six feet away from your spouse while at a restaurant.
  • The Governor was asked about whether Mayors were ready for the reopening of in-person dining.  He said Mayors have been good partners, he has spoken with several Mayors April 29, and has gotten a good response, with their comfort level improving because of only allowing 1/3 occupancy.
  • The Emergency Rule for alcohol delivery will still be available.
  • The Governor’s second announcement was the introduction of the Arkansas Ready for Work Program, which will provide $15 million to assist businesses through this first phase, to help build consumer confidence.  Here are the details:
    • In an effort to help Arkansas businesses as they prepare to transition back towards normal operating capacity, the Ready for Business Grant Program is designed to provide grants from $1,000 to $100,000, depending on the number of employees, to assist with COVID-19-related expenses, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), deep cleaning, signage, hand sanitizer dispensers, marketing and more. Eligible expenditures must be made between March 1 and December 31, 2020.
    • A Certificate of Good Standing from the Office of the Secretary of State is required to apply. Obtain a copy here.
    • The grants will be administered by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Applications will be reviewed in the order in which they are received.The $15 million remains subject to approval of the CARES Act Steering Group and Members of the Arkansas Legislative Council.
  • The Governor has asked Mayors to coordinate with his office about either implementing or changing any curfews.
  • The Governor hasn’t changed his position on evictions after an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling preventing evictions on federally funded properties. The Governor’s position is that landlords should be patient with tenants if needed, and tenants should pay if they have the ability to.
  • Regarding potential liability for businesses after reopening, if an employee gets sick, the Governor doesn’t want to get into a litigation pandemic. He wants to resolve these in a way to keep businesses going. This would include ADH enforcement of their regulations and employees pursuing claims through workers’ compensation.
  • The NY Times article on Pine Bluff being a COVID-19 hotspot was inaccurate because it included the Pine Bluff Metro Area, which includes Cummins State Prison.
  • 30 pacific islanders in Northwest Arkansas have tested positive. ADH has worked to educate minority groups and particularly those that don’t speak English. The Governor hopes to utilize CARES Act funds to pay special attention to minority communities that have been impacted.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Regarding contact tracing, Dr. Smith said they have 194 employees working on case investigations. He expects another 125-150 College of Public Health students to come on board after training.
  • Regarding PPE for restaurants and other businesses, Dr. Smith said they don’t need the entire PPE that a healthcare worker would need.  With restaurants, workers need a cloth face covering and gloves, but not an N95 mask. It still remains important for them to wash their hands frequently.
  • There will not be any new ADH inspection agents. ADH will have the same regulatory framework with both regular inspections and also complaint-driven inspections after restaurants reopen.
  • Freestanding bars will not be included in the initial May 11.

Mike Preston: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Commerce

  • Secretary Preston discussed the Economic Recovery Task Force and their paramount objective of consumer confidence. Secretary Preston is hosting a call with economic development partners this afternoon.  The website for the Arkansas Ready for Work Program applications and other information is Arkansasedc.com/covid-19.
  • The Department of Commerce is looking at the issue of liability of businesses after reopening and is reviewing federal proposals and proposals from other states for guidance.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Economic Recovery Task Force

  • Each sub-committee within the task force met at least twice, if not more.
  • The guidelines for each industry were made with an ADH contact and with industry participation. Monte McNulty has been very proactive and instrumental in getting guidelines ready. The Task Force is developing a website.  Steuart mentioned that some types of activities will take longer to normalize, but did not get into specifics.  He has found this undertaking complex but profound, with reason for optimism.  He believes there will be opportunities as we enter the normalization process.
  • He sees this not as a competition between states, but a competition amongst ourselves.  We have to make decisions with facts and Arkansas specific reasoning.

 

4/28/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 28, there are 3,111 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas, with 1,913 active cases.  Total deaths—52.  It was highlighted that there have been 159 recoveries within the last 24 hours.  Of the 94 new cases, 74 are from the community and 20 are from the Cummins State Prison.  At Cummins, 860 total inmates have been infected, up four since yesterday, April 27.  51 Cummins State Prison Staff have been infected, up one from yesterday.  At the Forrest City Prison, 87 inmates have been infected, up eight since yesterday, and 12 staff, which is up one from yesterday, April 27.  208 nursing home residents have been infected, up five from yesterday.  115 nursing home staff have been infected.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Tomorrow, April 29, Governor Hutchinson will make an announcement regarding restaurants, including operational guidelines and restrictions. The Governor is still getting feedback from the hospitality industry on the easing of restrictions on restaurants.
  • The Governor showed a chart with the numbers of new cases broken down by prisons vs the community, including the seven-day rolling average. The trend line has been going down the past few days.
  • The Governor stated that the number of hospitalizations and cases will go up because they are increasing testing. The Governor and Dr. Smith are watching for whether there is significant community spread versus individual cases.  He wants to continue increasing contact testing and ensure they are doing the follow-up work.
  • As of May 1, in-state residents can camp in state parks if they are in self-contained RVs.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Nate Smith thinks we are plateauing on hospitalizations and is glad we are not seeing new clusters. They are analyzing the data, looking at how many cases were Persons Under Investigation, in addition to examining each case carefully, as they were to interrupt any potential spread.
  • ADH will continue expanding contact tracing. They will see how effectively they can utilize technology as part of their efforts.
  • Regarding plasma donations, there have been 30 donors and 13 have received plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. They have had very positive results and UAMS is starting a clinical trial of convalescent patients

Stacy Hurst: Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

  • Secretary Stacy Hurst’s Phase I recommendations on reopening RV camping on May 1 and opening other state park attractions on May 15 were approved by Dr. Smith before going to the Governor for final approval.
  • Beginning on May 15, limited food service, marina equipment and other equipment will be available at state parks. If it becomes problematic then they will re-examine these easing of restrictions and make new recommendations.
  • Those seeking to utilize the relaxed provisions beginning on May 1 and 15 will have to prove their residency. Park staff will have conversations with visitors if needed.  They are looking at ways to screen in advance to prevent out-of-state visitors from arriving.
  • Regarding safeguards in restaurants, they will follow the safety recommendations from the CDC and ADH. They will take every precaution to ensure the safety of staff and visitors.

 

4/27/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 27, there are 3,017 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas, with 2,030 active cases.  Total deaths—50. Of the 76 new cases, 60 came from the community and 16 from the Cummins State Prison.  25 are on ventilators.  Cummins State Prison has reported 856 positive cases, with six inmates hospitalized.  No inmates are being treated in the prison field hospital.  It was announced that the first COVID-19 patient from Arkansas was released from the hospital this weekend.

COVID-19 Updates

Executive Orders and Other Relevant Information:

Governor Asa Hutchinson Press Conference

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Governor Hutchinson reviewed the gating criteria from the White House and demonstrated Arkansas statistics are trending in a positive direction in all three categories mentioned in the gating criteria. While the state hasn’t seen a downward trend for 14 days with COVID-19 cases, Governor Hutchinson emphasized that the Federal Government’s gating criteria provides flexibility, and the Governor is pleased by the downward trajectory as far as positivity rate.  Governor Hutchinson said the state was on a downward trajectory-based ER visits for those with COVID-19 symptoms and outpatient visits for those with influenza-like symptoms.  The Governor also likes where the state is as far as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hospital availability if cases arise in the future.  The state has a robust ability to test healthcare workers.
  • The Testing Surge Campaign produced the results hoped for by the Governor with over 1,500 tests conducted on April 25 and 26. Governor Hutchinson deemed the Surge Campaign to be successful.
  • The Governor is watching other states that are rapidly easing restrictions, but he isn’t concerned that easing those restrictions will lead to an increase of cases in Arkansas.
  • The Governor has been in contact with Tyson Foods.  Tyson ran ads in several newspapers this weekend raising awareness of how the food supply chain is breaking because of coronavirus infections causing plants to close.  Arkansas has 60 food processing plants, none of which are closed, and Governor Hutchinson highlighted that these plants are critical for the country and the world’s food supply chains. Both the Governor and Dr. Smith are comfortable with the measures being taken at food processing plants in Arkansas.
  • The Governor had a call with President Trump and other Governors this afternoon at 1 p.m. Governor Hutchinson expected the call to discuss COVID-19 testing, funding for states, as well as, efforts pertaining to COVID-19.
  • As he has mentioned previously, he plans announcements on easing restrictions for specific industries beginning April 29, with those restrictions potentially being lifted beginning May 4. On April 29 restaurants will be discussed, on April 30 it will be gyms, and beauty salons and barbershops on May 1.
  • There was a cyberattack at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on April 26, but, while no details were provided, it was mentioned that it was resolved within 12 hours, without a loss of inpatient care or testing.
  • Governor Hutchinson reminded Arkansans to continue social distancing measures and utilizing protective gear, as any lifting of restrictions does not mean that those practices should be discontinued.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • Surge testing produced 1,079 cases on April 24, with a 7.9% positivity rate, 1,598 on April 25, with a 4.8% positivity rate, and 1,506 reports on April 26, with a 1.8% positivity rate.  The total positivity rate is 7.5% for the 40,074 tests done in the state.  The rate is so high because the state has focused testing on high-risk populations (Cummins and nursing homes) and symptomatic patients.
  • ADH has been in contact with Tyson and they are on the same page with helping ensure that Tyson can continue operations while ensuring worker safety.
  • On a case-by-case basis, Dr. Smith says clinicians are seeing clinical improvement with patients who have received plasma from those that have recovered.
  • The supply chain for PPE has improved.  The only choke-point is swabs right now, which Dr. Smith says should improve soon.

Johnny Key: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE)

  • This weekend, Secretary Key announced that in-person graduation ceremonies are prohibited until July 1.  Schools can work with ADE, who will coordinate with ADH, on ceremonies if social distancing measures can be accomplished.  Secretary Key will make the final decision. If not, schools can also plan non-traditional graduation events through video-conferencing technology or social media.

 

4/23/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 23, there are 2,276 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas, with 1,371 active cases.  Total deaths—42. 

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson, Secretary Nate Smith, M.D.-Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), Steuart Walton, Chair of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Task Force

Executive Orders:

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • The Governor’s goals remain to accomplish the following, which are the priorities of the Medical Advisory Board: Restore the economy; Protect vulnerable members of the population; Provide adequate healthcare; and Prevent a resurgence. 
  • The state needs more testing done, so they need more visibility into the actual inventory available in Arkansas as well as capacity.  The Governor met with the COVID-19 Testing Advisory Group.  In good news, the Governor said that there is a decreased demand for testing, with more inventory available from what he has been told by hospitals.  
  • The Governor has spoken with Vice President Pence and other Governors about the need to do additional testing.  
  • The Governor has been in regular communication with surrounding states about easing restrictions, but the Governor’s decisions are independent because Arkansas’s needs are different than other states.  The Governor is not prejudging whether to keep anything open or closed on May 4.
  • The Governor hopes we’re at the peak and infections will begin to go down.  However, the Governor stressed that everything is fluid, so the state’s citizens must stay vigilant as we get to May 4, as he can pull back on easing up if cases rise.  The Governor does not believe that it is necessary to require everyone in the state to wear facemasks in public.  The Governor knows there is pent up demand for services such as getting haircuts, but the key is to develop policies to keep the public safe, while also allowing businesses to reopen.
  • The Governor said the state will provide $10 million to rural hospitals and they hope to get additional support from the pending federal appropriation supplementing the CARES Act.  The $10 million would go to hospitals, as they haven’t been able to engage in revenue-producing activities and help in the expansion of tele-health, which has proven to be very successful.
  • Effective April 27, 2020, ADH is lifting restrictions on elective procedures in Arkansas hospitals and clinics based on certain criteria.  The patient must have been tested for COVID-19 within 48 hours, amongst other limitations, as they want to take an incremental approach.  The directive should go out later today, April 23 or tomorrow, April 24. 
  • Leading up to May 4, 2020, they will decide whether to open the following based on this schedule: 
    • April 29 – Restaurants
    • April 30 – Gyms
    • May 1 – Barbershops and salons
    • May 4 – Places of worship and larger venues (sporting events)
  • There is no date set for determining when to reopen lodging. They will still discourage discretionary travel.
  • There has not been a decision yet on casinos, with the Executive Order set to expire on April 30.

Dr. Nate Smith: Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health

  • Dr. Smith mentioned the following good news: the number of new cases is going down and there is not an upward trend in areas where there are a higher number of cases. 
  • If the state’s citizens remain disciplined after May 4, and if the state continues to exercise social distancing and other preventative measures, then cases will continue to drop and the state can enter Phase I-III of the President’s Opening Up American Again (OUAA) gating plan as quickly as possible. 
  • Regarding the April 27 reinstitution of elective procedures, he said that routine doctor and dentist visits will be a judgment call by the clinicians, but also they must be consistent with the additional restrictions they are keeping in place.
  • There are over 650 cases of COVID-19 in the Cummins State Prison.  They are testing additional barracks beyond where the initial outbreak was located.
  • The state was encouraging doctors to have patients tested if they are symptomatic.  He said some hospitals can get an answer on whether a patient is positive within 15 minutes or an hour but generally now commercial labs can get results within 24-48 hours. 
  • ADH is training 100-120 more employees to do contact tracing.

Steuart Walton: Chair of the Economic Recovery Task Force

  • The Governor’s Economic Recovery Task Force held its first meeting on April 21.  Secretaries Hurst, Preston, and Ward, representing agencies overseeing state parks and hospitality, commerce, and agriculture, will lead the subgroups of the organization. They plan to issue Initial recommendations by May 4, a tentative report by end of May, and a final report by end of June.  They may also provide strategic recommendations specifically for guiding businesses. 

 

4/17/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 17, there are 1,695 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—37.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson, Secretary Mike Preston-Arkansas Department of Commerce (DOC) and Secretary Nate Smith, M.D.-Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • There needs to be criteria for addressing how the state looks after the COVID-19 peak.  The Governor joined a call with President Trump and other Governors to discuss how to revive the economy after the crisis.  However, the Governor doesn’t feel like Arkansas has been closed for business, so the issue won’t be “reopening” Arkansas.  The Governor praised President Trump’s gating mechanism (Opening up America Again).  The Governor thinks it’s a good starting point and he likes the flexibility it provides states.  The goal is to get to Phase I of Opening up America Again (OUAA), but they’re not there yet. The state must reduce the number of cases and increase testing.  The state must continue to listen to Dr. Smith and the Post-Peak Medical Advisory Committee.
  • The Governor called to congratulate Sen. Hickey on his election as President Pro Tem of the Senate.  The Governor thinks he can work well with Sen. Hickey.
  • The Governor was pleased with the Fiscal Session and does not believe he will have to veto any bills.  The Governor believes they made adequate cuts in funding to make sure there is no long-term harm to the economy.  He is confident they will be able to continue needed services.
  • The Governor does not think they will have to release any inmates, due to COVID-19 outbreaks at correctional institutions, but they have contingency plans in place if things get worse.
  • Helping hospitals will be a major focus of the state’s CARES Act funding.
  • The Governor said the goal was to lift some of the restrictions that have been imposed by May.

Secretary Mike Preston-Arkansas Department of Commerce (DOC)

  • There have been 150,000 unemployment claims filed and processed in Arkansas.
  • 14,803 Arkansas businesses have received funds from the Payroll Protection Plan, a part of the CARES Act, totaling $2.1 billion.

Secretary Nate Smith, M.D.-Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)

  • There have been some positive trends (the case increases are staying steady) but it’s way too early to be doing a victory lap. However, the State needs to be looking ahead at its post-peak response.
  • Dr. Smith announced that the Post-Peak Medical Advisory Board identified four priorities for the post-peak response: Restoring Arkansas’s economy in a timely fashion; protecting the most vulnerable; maintaining adequate healthcare, increasing testing capacity, ensuring adequate PPE, and increasing contact tracing; and, preventing resurgence.
  • Dr. Smith said the state is meeting some of the criteria before entering Phase I of OUAA.  They have seen a reduction in new cases and influenza-like conditions.
  • ADH has increased testing and can provide testing to all symptomatic individuals now.
  • Dr. Smith said they will respect differences in the state as far as removing directives after May 4, but must have a statewide approach.

 

4/15/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 15, there are 1,569 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—33.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson

Executive Orders:

Other announcements from Governor Asa Hutchinson, Dr. Nate Smith, M.D.-Secretary Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, Cindy Gillespie- Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS)
  • The expectation is that the peak in Arkansas will be May 4, 2020.  The Governor is not ready to relax social distancing efforts and continues to believe the efforts in Arkansas are paying dividends.  The Governor, and the Post COVID-19 Medical Advisory Board, will make decisions on relaxing restrictions based on the best public health data, balanced with understating that this is an economic crisis, as well.  Secretary Smith said the key will be contact tracing, taking a gradual approach driven by data, and collaborating with other States and the Federal Government.  The Governor has communicated with Governors in the region, as well as, the Federal Government, to ensure that they are all on the same page.
  • The Governor and Dr. Smith believe that Arkansas’s hospital and healthcare worker capacity are sufficient.
  • There have been outbreaks in a State and Federal Correctional Facility in Arkansas, accounting for approximately 10% of the positive cases in Arkansas.
  • The Governor has placed message boards on Arkansas highways, alerting travelers that out-of-state recreational lodging is prohibited currently.
  • Summer camps may have to be canceled.
  • Secretary Smith announced that the state has relaxed its criteria for COVID-19 testing, allowing for additional testing.
  • The Governor, along with Secretary Gillespie, discussed that Arkansas has received approval from CMS, allowing for bonus payments to approximately 26,000 eligible healthcare workers, in facilities that receive Medicaid funding primarily.  The expectation is that this will cost approximately $55 million.  Healthcare workers in hospitals, and support personnel, would be eligible to receive bonuses from the state’s portion of the CARES Act.  The expectation is that there would roughly 46,000 eligible individuals, which is expected to cost around $50 million, as well.
  • The Governor is not concerned at this point that the updated budget is not conservative enough, which would necessitate further cuts in the future.

 

4/10/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 10, there are 1,171 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—23.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson

  •  The Governor continues to believe the state is seeing progress in staying below their projections of where COVID-19 cases could be if social distancing and other preventative measures were not taken. The Governor and Secretary Smith spoke with D.r Fauci this morning and they reported that Dr. Fauci spoke approvingly of Arkansas’s efforts.  Governor Hutchinson was very impressed with how Dr. Fauci asked how Arkansans were doing with preventative measures and their thinking on what was going on.  They stated that Dr. Fauci did not specifically state that Arkansas needed a stay at home order and understood that what Arkansas was doing wouldn’t necessarily be what was right for other states, but was working for Arkansas.
  • The Governor spoke about developing the process for opening up the economy, if and when the COVID-19 crisis subsides. The Governor said the first question is, has Arkansas reached its peak?  Once they have active cases going down, then they can have more concrete plans.
  • The Governor said they haven’t gotten a positive result back from CMS on extra payments for healthcare workers (Medicaid 1115 Waiver). The Governor said they understand its a question of whether it should be provided by Medicaid or the federal money for COVID-19 expenses.  Governor said he was frustrated and stressed the urgency to the federal government, as it is not quick enough for workers.
  • The Governor discussed the no-excuse absentee voting measure that was raised in the Fiscal Session. He said his understanding was that it was an issue that needs to be addressed in another fashion–not the Fiscal Session. He said he would be open to waiving rules so he could do it in another fashion if COVID-19 is still an issue in the fall.

 

4/8/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 8, there are 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—18.

 

Representatives Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and Les Warren, R-Hot Springs, have tested positive for COVID-19.  All three of them have reported that their symptoms are minimal and they are self-isolating.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson

Executive Orders:

Other announcements from Governor Asa Hutchinson, Dr. Nate Smith, M.D.-Secretary Arkansas Department of Health (ADH)
  • Based on a University of Washington model, the state is expecting the COVID-19 peak to be late April.  The Governor continues to believe that, based on the evidence and data, that the current restrictions and guidance the state has provided are slowing the spread, and remain the right course of action.
  • The ADH has utilized guidance from retailers such as Lowes and will provide best practices for retailers.
  • The Governor has provided cities and counties some flexibility regarding curfews and closures, as long as it doesn’t impede commerce and they coordinate with the Governor’s office.  The Mayor of Little Rock stated that he would prefer the option of being stricter than what is currently authorized, but he understands the restrictions that currently exist and that what is right for Little Rock might not be right for other cities.
  • Public schools are closed for the remainder of the school year.
  • The Department of Human Services is waiting for CMS to approve its 1115 Medicaid Waiver for extra payments to healthcare professionals, as it hasn’t been granted yet.

 

4/2/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. April 2, there are 643 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—12.

 

Representative Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna and Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, who were in attendance at the Special Legislative Session last week, have tested positive for COVID-19.  The Governor reported that he had spoken with Speaker Shepherd, and they felt confident that other members would not be at risk due to the proactive measures they undertook.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson

Executive Orders:

Other announcements from Governor Asa Hutchinson
  • The Governor discussed how out-of-state visitors are coming to Arkansas and congregating at popular state parks, and not abiding by social distancing recommendations, which is causing a problem.  The Governor closed some parks and instituted additional restrictions.
  • The Governor sent a declaration to the federal government declaring Arkansas a major disaster zone, enabling the state to receive access to funds to help with the COVID-19 response.
  • The Governor believes the state is seeing progress in staying below their projections of where COVID-19 cases could be if social distancing and other preventative measures were not taken. Governor Hutchinson believes that the targeted directives and prohibitions undertaken in Arkansas have been as effective as shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders from other states. Governor Hutchinson believes that if individuals continue to take accountability, they can maintain the existing directives and guidance.

 

3/27/2020

COVID-19 Cases

As of 4 p.m. March 27, there are 384 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—three.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson

Executive Orders:

  • EO 20-09: Extended the filing deadline for individuals to July 15, mirroring the federal filing date change (https://governor.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/executiveOrders/200325_EO_20-09.pdf).
  • EO 20-10: Directive limiting gatherings both indoor and outdoor to 10 people or less; provides exceptions for businesses, certain open outdoor spaces, governmental bodies, and places of worship; states that the Secretary of Health can bolster the EO if needed.
Other announcements from Governor Asa Hutchinson
  • Governor Hutchinson announced at his March 26 press conference a $116 million plan, with $91 million expected to come from the federal government, to do the following:
    • improve access to hospitals and other medical facilities
    • provide more money and health protections to medical workers
    • provide some aid for the sick and families caring for them
  • Key efforts include:
    • making grants to hospitals, doctors, and others for environmental modifications — such as drive-through test sites and isolation areas
    • providing money for training and safety measures to protect workers. This could mean extended clinic hours or shifting work hours
    • providing for the expansion of telemedicine (infrastructure and training) and non-emergency transportation for sick people
    • providing additional payments to nurses and similar  — $1,000 a month for “non-physician direct care workers” and $2,000 for those workers in facilities treating coronavirus cases
    • making additional payments to facilities with a high percentage of infected people, including homeless shelters
The plan would require a Medicaid Waiver from CMS, which Dennis Smith, Senior Medicaid Advisor, believes they will receive quickly.  Below is the information we received from the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Of that $116,000,000, the breakdown is as follows:
  • $55 million for increased pay for nurses
  • $19 million to increase workforce safety and training
  • $15 million for capital improvements for smaller hospitals
  • $5 million for healthcare support for the homeless and other vulnerable populations
  • $1.4 million for uninsured Arkansans
Chancellor Patterson from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences announced that with the $30 million, recently released by Governor Hutchinson for the purchase of personal protective equipment, they expect to receive the following this weekend:
  • 3 million N95 masks
  • 4 million surgical masks
  • 4 million gowns
  • 2.1 million face shields
  • 7 million gloves

 

3/25/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There are 301 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Total deaths—two.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson

  • Governor Hutchinson announced that he viewed this time as the calm before the storm. That said, he believed that Arkansas was prepared. The state has received its allotment from the Strategic National Stockpile and over one million units of personal protection equipment (PPE) is scheduled to arrive this weekend. This should cover up to 60 days at current rates, but they will continue seeking PPE in case things get worse. The Governor reiterated he does not see a need to do a shelter-in-place or a business shutdown, but issued a directive limiting inside crowds of more than ten people.

 

3/24/2020

COVID-19 Cases

There are 201 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas.  Fortunately, there are no deaths to date.

Updates from Governor Asa Hutchinson

Executive Orders:

Other announcements from Governor Asa Hutchinson

Governor Hutchinson has encouraged teleconferencing and remote-work where possible.  He has stated that businesses should update contingency plans for business operations and screen employees/visitors for illness.  State government employees are telecommuting and only necessary personnel are to perform on-site work.  He has no expectation of a statewide shelter-in-place or shutdown, as he views the existing measures the state is undertaking and recommending as sufficient.  It was announced at the Governor’s news conference on March 23, that due to layoffs and business shutdowns, the state expects a $160,000,000 reduction in state revenue through this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Because of this, and his announcement that he is extending the deadline for individuals to pay their state income tax to July 15, 2020, with $190,000,000 being shifted to the next fiscal year, they are adjusting the state’s revenue forecast down by $353,000,000.  Regarding the budget, the Governor’s Finance Secretary anticipates cuts to several categories of funding, with the rest of the cut, apportioned evenly to the top priority category, with specific funding requests to agencies on the frontline of the coronavirus efforts prioritized.  The state has significant funds available in a rainy day fund, and an unallocated surplus, however, the Governor wants to maintain a balance to be safe.