Aug 17, 2020

Asa Hutchinson Arkansas August 17 Coronavirus Briefing Transcript

Asa Hutchinson Arkansas August 17 Coronavirus Briefing Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsAsa Hutchinson Arkansas August 17 Coronavirus Briefing Transcript

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas held a coronavirus press conference on August 17. Read the full transcript here.

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Asa Hutchinson: (03:00)
Good afternoon, Eddie.

Asa Hutchinson: (03:02)
Thank you for joining us for today’s COVID-19 update. I know we were starting a little bit later than usual, but obviously we had Dr. Burks here in town, had a very, very good meeting with Dr. Burks that I’ll comment on. I first wanted to wish Bob King, Charles R. Bob King, a happy birthday. He is a U.S. Navy World War II veteran, and he turned 95 years of age on Friday. And he’s from Jonesborough wanted to wish him well and thank him for his great service to our country.

Asa Hutchinson: (03:41)
Secondly, I wanted to mention my meeting with Dr. Burks, and it was a very, very good meeting where she got to hear from our hospitals, from our education. And she got to hear in terms of our longterm care facilities, our prison facilities. Had a very good discussion on how we’re fighting COVID-19 here in Arkansas. I thought she made some comments that were encouraging to me. She said our positivity rate is coming down in Arkansas. She said that we’re down 30% in our new cases over of the previous week. And that will be reflected in the upcoming reports. Obviously that’s encouraging. She certainly encouraged us to do more that we still have more work to do here in Arkansas. We listened very attentively to her admonitions in that regard.

Asa Hutchinson: (04:47)
She also gave us some insights in terms of our antigen testing and which is we purchased some antigen equipment that we could do that testing in our public health offices across the state of Arkansas. And we’re waiting on the supplies for that. They were anxious to receive. She indicated that the federal government has made the acquisition of much of the antigen testing supplies that we were relying upon, and that they’re going to put the priority on the nursing homes and to make sure that they have the testing material, that they need to conduct the test with the most vulnerable population.

Asa Hutchinson: (05:32)
And so that will make us adjust our timeline for putting out our antigen testing equipment as we plan, but we will continue to make those plans as we receive those supplies. I also wanted to just mention that in terms of the absentee voting, I was asked this weekend, whether I’d seen the U.S. Postal Department, a letter, and I have reviewed that letter, which was addressed to our secretary of state. And it clearly indicates that if everybody waits til the end in Arkansas, to send their absentee vote in, then it could be challenging if there’s a large number of those to get everything counted in a timely fashion.

Asa Hutchinson: (06:22)
And that’s a good heads up. I think the response is that we simply alert people that if you’re going to vote absentee, we encourage you to do that early rather than late to make sure that the absentee vote gets in adequately in time so that it could be counted properly on election day. With that let me go to schools for just a second. And we’re schools, the public schools in Arkansas will start the week of August 24th, which is one week from today. It is interesting to note that many of the private schools in Arkansas have already started. And so we estimate that there’s 52 private schools that are already operating in Arkansas that has provided an education to 15,000 students. And they have over 2000 faculty and staff that’s at work, engaging in the education for those children.

Asa Hutchinson: (07:21)
We put off our public education program for two weeks to give us more time to start, but it does give us some information flow as to how that is working in the private sector with the teachers that are there, that the students that are there. And I also welcome them back to the classroom and hope that they have a good year in education.

Asa Hutchinson: (07:45)
Now let’s go to the cases and I’ll first start with this weekend, we had as, you know, 673 new cases on Sunday, 198 of those were incorrections, which were primarily the work release center and the Varner Unit as a result of our retesting efforts. Today, we have an additional 412 cases, and that is with testing of 4,093. And so that’s a reduction in the number of cases today with 4,093 and test that brings our total cumulative test, excuse me, our total cumulative cases to 53,077. We have eight additional hospitalizations that brings us to 486 and four additional deaths that brings us to 603. The only two counties that are above 20 in their caseload are the new cases is plastic County with 54 and Sebastian County with 21. Those are two counties that we talked about with Dr. Burks that clearly indicates that we have some additional work to do in those counties.

Asa Hutchinson: (09:03)
Clearly indicates that we have some additional work to do in those counties. If we look at the graph, we’ll see where we are on our last day and that takes us to the rolling average which shows that we’re still going down from our peak. We need to continue to go down but we’re making some progress there and then the number of currently hospitalized is still well below the peak that we had even though it is up a little bit from the previous day. The number of active cases is very encouraging because it’s on that downward trend. There’s always some ups and downs but it’s on a downward trend right now and that brings this … I don’t show this all the time, but the community cases which are excluding those that are in correctional facilities and that indicates the same trend. If you look at the seven day rolling average of positive cases, or our positivity rate, of course we always want to get below 10%, we’re right on the margins now but we’re headed in the right direction. That’s the cumulative total. If you look at the seven day average [inaudible 00:10:24] it’s right at ten point something percent so hopefully we’ll get that down below that before school starts.

Asa Hutchinson: (10:31)
Then the date of test result and testing facility type, both the Department of Health and the commercial labs had a slower day but we’re still even with that over 4,000 but we’d like to be much higher than that in our cases, in our testing and hopefully that will come up and then finally we’ll see where we are for the month. I’m actually encouraged by this. We set a very robust goal with 200,000 … Well actually, I think it was 190,000 in PCR tests and the rest we were hoping to do in antigen tests which we’re still bringing in the antigen tests that our pharmacies are doing. Hopefully we can increase that but with 94,000, a little bit over halfway through the month, we’re going to be very strong in our testing which gives us very robust testing across Arkansas in terms of the percent of our population and with that, I welcome Dr. [Romero 00:11:37] for his comments.

Dr. Romero: (11:44)
Thank you very much Governor. So I will repeat the numbers and I expand on them a little bit. So as stated, we had 412 new cases in the last 24 hours. 12 of those from correctional facilities and 4 from the community. Our total number of cases to date in the state is 53,077. Our active cases now total 6,341, comprised by 38 nursing home cases, 994 correctional cases, and 5,309 community cases. Currently hospitalized individuals are 486 which is an increase from yesterday by 8. We have no change in the number of individuals on a ventilator at 120. Deaths have increased by 4 to 603. Total recovered patents in the state is 46,133, an increase of 561.

Dr. Romero: (12:58)
As mentioned by the governor, we tested 4,093 specimens yesterday. Contributions by private and commercial institutions was 2,857, followed by Arkansas Department of Health at 880 and UAMS with 356. So with that, I complete the numbers. As the governor mentioned, we had a very robust discussion with Dr. Birx about the status of testing and tests and positivity in our state. One of the things that Dr. Birx pointed out was that transmission now appears to be mostly in the area of community and familial, that is that we’re having get-togethers with families in our backyards, we’re having get-togethers with our neighborhoods. Being outside and getting together doesn’t mean that you’re not going to spread the virus, so when you get more than 10 people together, there is certainly a risk to do that, whether that be in the family or whether that be in the community. So we urge caution in doing so, we urge avoiding that if possible. Again if you do use it, if you do decide to do that, again I think a mask would be prudent in what we have learned today, and we will update you as we learn more about what transmission is like in the near future. Thank you Governor.

Asa Hutchinson: (14:29)
With that, we’ll take any questions.

Speaker 2: (14:32)
You said there was a timeline change for rolling out the antigen testing. Can you expand upon that?

Asa Hutchinson: (14:40)
The antigen testing is being done in our pharmacies. Many of the pharmacies have that available and we’re getting that linked in to our Department of Health so we can accurately and quickly report and record those. In addition we have made a purchase of 200 antigen, BD antigen machines through the Department of Health that we were planning to deploy to our local public health offices so that it could be utilized in the community. An antigen test of course is a point of care test, so it’s a quick turnaround test and that’s the advantage of it. We were hoping to have the supply kits for that soon and we do have enough to get started. We have 1,200 tests which is a significant number so we’ll be able to do 1,200 of those tests but to continue that supply, we have to have more supplies for those BD machines and that looks like we’re going to be close in time as to whether that will come in in time because of the priority in getting those to the nursing homes first.

Speaker 2: (15:59)
But the state is still … You’re not changing where you want to send them, you’re still wanting to send them to those local public health offices?

Asa Hutchinson: (16:04)
That’s correct. Our strategy remains the same, just our timeframe is going to be very close as to whether we can make sure that the testing is available without any delays or interruption and we’re going to start that, we’ve got 1,200 tests. We’ll see where we go from there.

Speaker 3: (16:29)
Governor, could you tell us a little bit about the disparity in cumulative cases and deaths over the weekend? I think cases went down by 1,200 Friday into Saturday and then deaths went down by one Saturday and Sunday?

Asa Hutchinson: (16:45)
Yes, let’s ask Dr. Romero to address that please.

Dr. Romero: (16:55)
Yes thank you. So we adjusted our numbers over the weekend. So we discovered that some of the negative tests were not being entered from the database which is called Rhapsody to our database in REDCap. We’ve now solved that issue and those were shifted over to REDCap. In addition to that, we went back and we “cleaned up” the data a little bit so there were some redundancies and some patients that were being noted twice. There were also individuals that were from out of state that were being counted as in-state and they were removed from the rolls. So the number now represents this cumulative negative removal of these cases that were positive but from out of state and any duplicates.

Dr. Romero: (17:42)
With regard to the second question which is the individual that we lowered the death from 600 to 599, so in reviewing the deaths that had occurred, we went back and we looked at it. That individual was diagnosed or had his death outside of the state. The test that was performed on that individual was a false positive.

Dr. Romero: (18:03)
… state the test that was performed on that individual was a false positive test. So because of that, that adult was removed from the roles. So that’s why you saw that one case down. Thank you.

Asa Hutchinson: (18:17)
Yes?

Speaker 4: (18:18)
Are you able to confidently say that we are overall on a downward trend or is it still too soon to really know?

Asa Hutchinson: (18:28)
Well, first let me refer to Dr. Birx’s comments in which there was a reduction in our positive rate and secondly, a reduction, our cases. And so I was delighted that she recognized that with White House Coronavirus Taskforce. Clearly, we have a downward trend over the last week to 10 days. I’m not necessarily saying that is going to continue, because that all depends upon individual behavior of people in Arkansas. Compliance with a basket mandate, making sure your social distance, making sure that you don’t get into large gatherings without being protecting or protecting others. And so I am hopeful that it will be a consistent downward trend, but no, I’m not in the predictive mode when it comes to the coronavirus. Any other questions?

Speaker 5: (19:31)
[crosstalk 00:19:39].

Asa Hutchinson: (19:39)
Just saying, we’re going to take one from the table then I’ll go to you, just a moment.

Speaker 6: (19:44)
With the Little Rock Education Association posted a statement on Friday. Are you worried about the possibility of the teachers just not showing up to school next Monday?

Asa Hutchinson: (19:53)
Well, across the state, like I said, we’ve got teachers showing up in the private schools day in and day out. And then as I travel the state, I was in Monticello. I hear from school districts all across the state and they’re ready to go and teachers are ready to go. I’m disappointed that union here in Little Rock is indicated that they’re pushing teachers not to show up on the first day of class, if they’re assigned in classroom instruction. That’s disappointing to me, and I do not believe it’s helpful for the students and that it doesn’t recognize the steps that have been taken to protect both teachers, staff and the students. Now let’s go remotely.

Jamie Weiss: (20:40)
Hi governor. This is Jamie Weiss with 4029 News. Kind of going off that question, is your office tracking the number of teachers who are resigning or retiring instead of returning to classrooms? And are you concerned about having enough teachers going forward?

Asa Hutchinson: (20:59)
We do not have statewide statistics on that. And so secretary Key may have that. I do not have that in front of me. So I have not been notified that this is a problem by superintendents statewide. I know that there has been some that have retired. Some of that’s normal, some of it is because they’re concerned because their own health reasons. Other times, there’s accommodations that are made for those that are concerned about the health. And of course that’s the first solution I hope that will be continued to be discussed with the leadership of the schools and the teachers who are concerned. So am I concerned about the first day of class? We’re ready to go. It’s important for our students. And so let’s have a good first day of school. Any other questions? Yes.

Chelsea Hounds: (21:58)
Hey, governor, it’s Chelsea hounds with KWA in Fayetteville. So state rep Denise Garner, she tweeted that if a college student from another state tests positive for COVID within the first two weeks of being here in Arkansas, then that positive case will be attributed to their home state. So if this is the case, how will this adequately represent the caseload within communities, like say Fayetteville, where a good chunk of our students here at the University of Arkansas are coming from other States like Texas?

Asa Hutchinson: (22:26)
Dr. Romero, are you aware of that? Of course, Representative Garner, we’ll have to verify whether that is accurate or not in terms of how the Department of Health and the university system will assign that. I assume that she’s getting that information from the university. And that actually makes sense to me because if they’re coming here, obviously if they test positive within the first couple of weeks, it indicates they acquired the virus from their previous state. And then after that, it should be counted for here in the state statistics. It is important as you note that we know about those just for informational purposes and for contact tracing purposes. And I’m confident that we will have that system in place for that information to be provided to the Department of Health. That’s part of the partnership with higher education. And I appreciate Representative Garner really alerting people to that logical distinction then, as any cases develop during the first two weeks.

Chelsea Hounds: (23:43)
So are you suggesting that when we do get the additional information coming from the different school districts, we will have that added information about out of state students testing positive, say at universities like the University of Arkansas?

Asa Hutchinson: (23:57)
Well, we were talking about the university system. Now, are you switching to the school districts?

Chelsea Hounds: (24:08)
Well, I know that you’re releasing that specific school district information specific to local schools. So I guess what I’m asking, is there going to be something similar to that based on universities as well?

Asa Hutchinson: (24:19)
No, because in the local school district situation, they’re Arkansas students, they’re Arkansas residents. And so that would not be a factor in terms of counting any positive cases within that school districts, but it is a very good point. If we have positive cases within the first two weeks, that is simply reflecting where they were the prior weeks before school started. And so that is really not reflecting school activity.

Asa Hutchinson: (24:52)
And that’s one of the things that Dr. Birx pointed out is that a school reflects the community. And if there’s a positive case and a school, it’s simply reflecting the community and the community spread or the situation there, and that’s why it is very relevant and should encourage all of our adults, all of our community to recognize what happens in that community impacts whether students can finish school with online instruction. Because if you have a high level or high risk of community spread, that’s more difficult to have school to continue in the normal fashion. And so that should be a real admonition to us, but specifically, no, what you recited will be handled at the higher education level in that way, but would not apply to K through 12.

Speaker 7: (25:57)
Dr. Birx also talked about the virus popping up again, when people see people gathering together with their friends and not dark outdoor parties, indoor parties. With college coming back, what level of confidence do you have that these college students are going to be doing the right thing and following all the public health mandates and not having lots of parties?

Asa Hutchinson: (26:19)
Well, in terms of college kids, it’s going to be a challenge. And this is where the universities need to educate, and they also need to have a plan whenever a student doesn’t behave properly or carefully. And so sure that’s a worry. And it’s a little bit different at the college level, because if you didn’t have classes, they would be back in their communities somewhere. For the majority of students that go to our universities in Arkansas that come from Arkansas, it simply means they’re back in their community. And the question is, how are they going to behave in their community? So-

Asa Hutchinson: (27:02)
… and how are they going to behave in their community. And that’s the K-12 education scenario as well. That if a high school student is not in the classroom, if they’re not working in classroom instruction, then they’re going to be learning virtually and they’re going to have a lot of freedom to move. And it’s not going to change the environment that’s out there. And so the lesson is we’re individually responsible, whether we’re in school or whether we’re learning virtually, or whether we’re in college or whether we’re at home. Let’s do the right thing for our communities and so we can continue our education.

Speaker 3: (27:55)
The new school district case number website that you put up last week, I think, or the week before, how should parents use that information? Are there some numbers that they should be looking at and say, when it gets to a certain level, they need to rethink sending their kids to school?

Asa Hutchinson: (28:15)
You’re speaking of the district level data. Well, first of all, we want them to be aware of what the circumstances are. We want to provide as much information as we can consistent with privacy rules. That allows them to make good decisions, but also hopefully to have a good comfort level that the right decisions are made and it stops rumors. Because if you don’t provide the information, then it’s just going to be what they’ve heard. And usually what they’ve heard is a lot worse than reality. And so we want to get that information to them. That’s between them and the schools. They have to make their first decision early as to whether they go virtual or whether they go in classroom instruction. They have options. They have choices. Once you start that, I think the school districts would like to see them continue that. But those are options that will be provided by the school districts and decisions made by them. If there’s not any other questions.

Neal Gladner: (29:19)
Governor, I have one if you have a moment, please. Neal Gladner in Hot Springs.

Asa Hutchinson: (29:23)
Yes.

Neal Gladner: (29:25)
Last week you talked about the antigen testing in all of the different counties as a way to help the school districts get fast answers if there is a case in a school. How does the news that you got from Dr. Birx impact that plan once you get out of the 1200? And is the NBA so-called spit or saliva test a possible solution to help with that?

Asa Hutchinson: (29:47)
The last part of the question, that’s a new technology that Dr. Birx indicated will be rapidly produced. That will be available perhaps mid-September. So we’ll continue to look at that, to see if that’s an option. If the pattern falls, then those kinds of resources go to… it’s very competitive to get those resources. We’ll see where Arkansas can compete to get those type of new technologies. In terms of the antigen test, we’re continuing to look to see what options we have there, how we can supplement that. I’m grateful that we did buy that equipment because this is a long battle that we’re in. And secondly, I’m glad we’ve got 1200 tests. That will be very helpful to us, but we want to be able to supplement that with additionals. So the whole idea of these daily updates is that we share the good news and the bad news, the ups and downs. And so hopefully we’ll have some good news to follow that, that there’ll be some supplemental testing supplies that we’ll be able to get our hands on to continue that strategy.

Frank Lockwood: (31:05)
Governor, Frank Lockwood with the Democrat-Gazette. If we’re not going to count out of state students coming in who test positive, do we have a plan in place for tracking Arkansas students who test positive at out of state schools? And also, do we have a plan in place if we have a situation like UNC is having where they have a big outbreak and they’re switching to remote classes altogether?

Asa Hutchinson: (31:31)
In college or K-12?

Frank Lockwood: (31:36)
Well, how about both?

Asa Hutchinson: (31:37)
Okay. Well, on the first part of the question. If an Arkansas resident goes out of state, do we have a means of tracking that? I would assume if they’re an Arkansas resident, that information would be sent back to our state. And Dr. Romero is indicating that’s the case. So we would be able to have that information. And that is important for us to have. Secondly, on the… I think, your question is if there’s an outbreak, is that what you said, Frank?

Frank Lockwood: (32:15)
Yes.

Asa Hutchinson: (32:17)
Well, yes. We have the capacity and we’ve invested in that to do the testing, the contact tracing. And in terms of K-12, absolutely. That’s part of our plan to be able to shift to virtual. We want to start with in classroom instruction, but if [inaudible 00:32:38] necessity to shift to online instruction, that could be done. That is our blended learning environment that we’ve created with our schools. And so you measure the risk, whether it’s low, moderate, or high risk and make a decision in conjunction with the Department of Health as to what the response is. So if it’s a serious breakout, it can be shifted to online instruction. In terms of the colleges, I think they need to address that individually, but I would assume they have preparations for that as well. With that, I think we’re good. We will keep you posted about tomorrow. Right now, we plan on being in Blytheville, Mississippi County. And that’s important because as Dr. Birx pointed out, you look at some of the counties that we have in Arkansas that are challenging, many times they’re close to another border. And in Mississippi County, we have people who work there-