Apr 4, 2020

Governor Asa Hutchinson Arkansas COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 4

Arkansas Governor Briefing April 4
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsGovernor Asa Hutchinson Arkansas COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 4

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas held an April 4 press conference on coronavirus. He is temporarily restricting out-of-state travelers from staying in hotels, motels in Arkansas. Read the full transcript here.

 

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Governor Asa Hutchinson: (00:11)
Thank you for joining me today for the latest update on the COVID-19 emergency response efforts here in the state of Arkansas. I got a text earlier today, it said, “People are listening to what you’re saying,” and he showed me a picture of the streets of Eureka Springs at 11:00 AM in the morning on Saturday, and they were empty. And so, the good news is people are paying attention and listening and doing what they need to do. Obviously, the sad part of that is, it emphasizes the stress that it is on our economy, on our business, particularly in the tourism industry. But I’m delighted to be joined again by Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Department of Health, and a special guest today, which is Lori Tudor, the Director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Yesterday we had 704 cases and 71 hospitalizations. Today there’s a increase of 39 which brings us to 743 cases in Arkansas, with 72 hospitalized. I think a significant fact is that we had over 1000 tests that were done in the last 24 hours, both through the public health lab, which worked extraordinarily hard to produce the those results, the commercial labs, as well as UAMS. There’s three new counties that have been added, Lafayette County, Dallas, and Prairie counties, and let me emphasize again that this keeps with the slow growth that we’re trying to accomplish in Arkansas, through the social distancing efforts, through good business practices that we’re following, the safety measures, the precautions that are needed, the CDC guidelines, even in our business practices. As I’ve emphasized before, this is both a health crisis and an economic crisis.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (02:23)
On the economic side, our state Bridge Loan Program has approved 80 loans now, in Arkansas, in 36 different counties, totaling $1.7 million. These are immediate relief measures to small businesses across the state, and I’m delighted that I received word that the first SBA loan was approved through a bank to some of our small businesses, as well. So the federal loans are starting to follow up and be processed.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (02:54)
On the unemployment side, our unemployment claims are up 66,000 with 8,000 in the queue, so you could see how they’re starting to move those claims through and the system is starting to work better, but just keep in mind that on Wednesday, our call center received over 300,000 calls, 300,000 calls on the hotline. We’ve added 54 employees to the call centers.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (03:22)
A word to our rural hospitals that are struggling. We have released $10 billion in state economic assistance grants to our rural hospitals. This we need to make sure is available to them in the rural areas, as they’ve not been able to do the elective surgeries. They’ve concentrated on this crisis. Their revenue streams are down, and so this helps them to make their payroll, to make sure they’re in operation during this crisis, and that we’ll continued to monitor their financial status.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (03:58)
I wanted to go through some additional measures we’ve taken. As you know, I talk about our targeted response efforts in Arkansas, and we’ll continue to build on these, as we see needs in our state, that should be addressed to prevent the spread of the virus. And so, I wanted to look to the chart on the screen. And this is a new executive order that I’ve signed today. This executive order is number 2013 and it encapsulates some of the other directives that we have already done. It merges them into this one directive, but this is new and I wanted to go over what’s new here, in the executive order they issued today. And this is again, the targeted response to COVID-19, and it applies to commercial lodgings and short term rentals, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (04:58)
And the directive is, that they shall only permit occupancy to the following guests: healthcare professionals, first responders, law enforcement, state and federal employees on official business, National Guard members on active duty, airline crew members, patients of hospitals and families, journalists, persons unable to return to their home because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, Arkansas citizens in exigent circumstances, persons in need of shelter due to domestic violence or homelessness, employees of hotels, motels that need their a person there, persons away from their own home due to work or work-related travel. And so that is permitted.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (05:42)
Now, what is not permitted, is recreational travelers from out of state. And that’s what it is directed to, directing our travel industry, motels and hotels, not to issue occupancy to out-of-state recreational travelers. And that’s been a challenge for us, as we have seen people leave New Orleans or they go from another hotspot, they see the opportunity to come to Arkansas, to be here, whether they go to our park or other recreational purposes. That’s what we don’t want to have happen. And this is a measure to restrict that. And we believe that it will have some significant effect out there, in reducing the travel that we’ve already discouraged. At this time, I want to ask Dr. Smith to come and to give his report. Then I’ll follow it up, by looking at some of the best practices that we see in our businesses today, in terms of social distancing. And then we’ll hear from Laurie Tutor.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (06:48)
Dr. Smith.

Dr. Nate Smith: (06:52)
Thank you, Governor. I’d like to give a little bit more detail on some of the numbers. As the governor has mentioned, we have 743 cases. This is an increase of 39 from yesterday, and this is despite receiving 1040 reports yesterday, which includes 198 from the Arkansas Department of Health public health lab. That is the largest number that we’ve been able to do in a single day. So, our overall positivity rate yesterday, was a 3.4%. We have three new counties that are involved, Lafayette, Dallas and Prairie. Our gender breakdown and racial breakdown is similar to what it’s been before. I have a little bit more detail on age breakdown. That’s been requested. Of our 743 cases, 20 are children ages less than 18, 49 are age 18 to 24…

Dr. Nate Smith: (08:03)
…210 are ages 25 to 44. 263 are ages 45 to 64, and 201 are 65 years of age and older. Of those 743 cases, 12 are pregnant women. We have 106 healthcare workers. That’s up 10 from yesterday. We have 72 currently hospitalized. That’s up one from yesterday. We have 23 who are currently on a ventilator. That is down three from yesterday, three fewer than yesterday, and we have 61 in a nursing home. That’s up eight from yesterday, although I would mention overall three of those who’ve passed away, so we have 58 currently nursing home resident. Of our, we have 14 total deaths. That’s up two from yesterday. Both of those individuals were age 65 or older. In terms of the age breakdown overall for those 14, 10 have been 65 years of age or older, and four in that age range less than 65, 19 to 64 age group.

Dr. Nate Smith: (09:34)
I’d like to talk a little bit about the nursing home numbers. As I mentioned, we had an increase of eight cases in nursing home. Those were all in a single nursing home, Willowbend Healthcare and Rehab in Marion County. We have had a total of 10 nursing homes now that have had at least one case or a worker involved, and two of those no longer have positive cases. So, we have eight that have at least one case.

Dr. Nate Smith: (10:13)
I’d like to talk for just a moment about masks. CDC put out a recommendation on masks for use by the public. The specific setting that those are recommended is public settings where it’s difficult or impossible to maintain a six-foot social distancing. So, if someone’s going to the grocery store or some other public place where it’s difficult or impossible to maintain social distance, then that’s a time when public can wear a mask. Now, the purpose of these masks, they are of limited value for protecting the wearer from other people, but they’re very good for capturing droplets that that person may produce. And that’s important because we’re starting to realize that a number of the transmission events, a number of the times when COVID-19 has spread, it’s been from people who spread the virus before they develop symptoms.

Dr. Nate Smith: (11:14)
And plus, at this time of year, many people have allergies, and so those allergy symptoms and the early symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar. So, people may be walking around feeling fine, but if they’re infected, they may be producing small droplets that could infect other people. So, the masks are a good way to capture those and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Nate Smith: (11:40)
Now, what kind of masks? We don’t want to take away masks from our healthcare workers because those are in short supply. We want to make sure our healthcare workers, those caring for nursing home residents and other long-term care facilities have the PPE, personal protective equipment, that they need. But what the CDC has recommended is either a cloth covering or a cloth mask. Now, this one here was made for me by my wife. Now, it doesn’t have to be this attractive and stylish covering, but when I go out in a public setting where I’m not able to maintain a six-foot distance, I will wear this.

Dr. Nate Smith: (12:18)
Someone wrote to me and asked me about singing, and that I thought I’d mentioned that as well. Singing actually can produce small droplets, and if you sing loudly like I sometimes do, those droplets can go very far. There was one situation in Washington State where they had a choir rehearsal. No one there was symptomatic, but they had a number of cases because obviously at least one person was infected. So, especially in church settings, if you’ve got to sing, that’s a time where you might want to wear one of these cloth masks even if you are six feet away. And finally, I wanted to mention that the Federal Correctional Institute in Forrest City has reported to us a small number of cases. We are helping them to evaluate that, but we are also requesting federal assistance from the CDC to assist with that outbreak investigation. With that, I’m going to go ahead and conclude my remarks and turn it back over to the governor.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (13:29)
Nate, I was watching very carefully if you’re going to put that mask on. That might’ve got you a picture in the paper. Thank you for your presentation. If we could go to the next slide here that I wanted to review some of the already existing practices for businesses. All businesses, manufacturers, construction companies, and places of worship are supposed to follow the social distancing protocols: limiting the number of people that enter the facility, if lines form, mark off six-foot increments at the minimum where they can maintain their distancing, provide hand sanitizers, contactless payment systems, very important for providing disinfectant of the payment portals, disinfect high-touch surfaces, and posting a sign. All of those things is what we have identified as proper procedures for businesses as they continue to work in essential industries or others that are allowed to proceed. But we want them to follow those, and I’ve been very, very pleased at the extent people have gone to make sure they are in compliance with those guidelines.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (14:50)
One thing that I ask ArDOT, Arkansas Department of Transportation, to do was to compare our travel patterns now with before the COVID-19 public health emergency, and according to their measurements in travel patterns and highway usage across Arkansas, it has been reduced. There’s been a 40% reduction in travel in Arkansas since this emergency has come about. Again, it’s an illustration that we’re out on the roads when we have to be there, but beyond that, we’re slowing down that travel, and that’s a good thing. When we talk about best practices, I’m proud of Lorie Tudor and the work that she’s done in supervising ArDOT, particularly with the construction industry. So, Lorie, if you would come and talk about some of the things that you’ve instituted as best practices.

Lorie Tudor: (15:56)
Thank you, Governor, for your excellent leadership during this crisis. At the Arkansas Department of Transportation, many of our-

Lori Tudor: (16:03)
At the Arkansas Department of Transportation, many of our office employees have gone home and are working from home. So today, I’m going to talk about our most vulnerable employees, our roadway and construction maintenance workers and our Arkansas Highway Police. Our Human Resources Division is sending out routine reminders and encouragement to all employees to practice all the safety precautions that they need to, and our immediate supervisors of these employees are instructed to verbally talk about those with the employees, because that just reinforces what an email says. There’s no substitute to verbally talking to your employees, and then having that email to back that up. There’s a link on our intranet website so that they can go back and look at all the different things that are being done.

Lori Tudor: (16:55)
We limit the number of personnel that has to be out on the job. Less is more. Just the amount that is needed to inspect a project, when that inspection is required.

Lori Tudor: (17:07)
We are saying only one operator per vehicle, not two in a vehicle, but just one.

Lori Tudor: (17:13)
We have changed our policy, so that normally people would come up and pump their own gas at our fueling stations around the state. Right now, we’re saying there’s only one person allowed to pump the gas. The person in the car, is to stay in the car, and not get out of the car, so that that limits contact on a hard surface, and it promotes social distance distancing.

Lori Tudor: (17:42)
They are to carry latex gloves, hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes in their cars and pickups at all times and use frequently.

Lori Tudor: (17:51)
They are to maintain a safe distance between inspection personnel and contractor personnel. They are to avoid meetings in an enclosed area. There are field shacks, or field offices, on site on these construction projects. They’re enclosed. They’re not ventilated well. We’re telling employees do not meet in there, meet outside, or do a teleconferencing type meeting.

Lori Tudor: (18:17)
We are suspending use of all hard copy paper for weigh tickets and other types of things, and we’re going to a more electronic system. That reduces the handoff between different people with all of these tickets and things that go on, on a construction job site.

Lori Tudor: (18:39)
For the contractors, if they have to reduce the amount of employees on that job, or they have to suspend operations, we’ll assist that and we will be very lenient on time charges, when it comes to that on that particular project.

Lori Tudor: (18:56)
We are producing a joint workforce health and safety plan for COVID-19, so that the contracting industry and the Arkansas Department of Transportation are all on the same page of what precautions need to be taken to protect our employees.

Lori Tudor: (19:15)
Many of these same precautions apply to our Arkansas Highway Police and they are continuing to work as usual, but are staying focused on this emergency. The governor has issued two proclamations to ease some of the burdens on the trucking industry, to make commerce flow more freely, and our Arkansas Highway Police are following those proclamations closely.

Lori Tudor: (19:45)
Something we’ve done recently, is we allowed an emergency permit waiver for 90,000 pounds for certain commodities that have to do with this COVID-19 crisis, such as farm to fork food, any kind of PPE, any kind of sanitizer or any kind of medicine. We’re waiving that requirement of 80,000 pounds. They don’t have to get a permit. They can just go with 90,000 pounds.

Lori Tudor: (20:19)
A list of all these actions, if you’re interested, can be found on our website, www.arkansashighways.com. Our Arkansas Highway chief of police, Chief Thompson and Arkansas state police, Colonel Bryant continue to be in regular communication with each other. Part of our responsibility is to escort, or guard, medical supplies as needed and we stand ready to assist the Arkansas state police, whenever we’re needed.

Lori Tudor: (20:49)
And with that, that’s the end of my report.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (20:54)
Thank you, Lori, and I appreciate your emphasis on safety in the construction industry. Let me conclude, by just applauding Walmart for only allowing five customers per 1000 square feet, which is a 20% reduction of their capacity. And Target are metering gas traffic to promote social distancing, supplying face masks and gloves.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (21:22)
In the area of recreation, you can still golf, but the ideal is what I’ve heard from one location, where they close the locker rooms, dining rooms, limited service, but there’s only one person per golf cart, no touching of the pin on the green. All of these are appropriate measures.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (21:42)
Then finally, state parks. We are continuing to monitor those, because of the traffic there. And I’ve authorized Secretary Hearst, if there is congestion, if there’s not following of the social distancing, then she has authority to close a state park, as needed.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (22:03)
So, all of these are areas of emphasis and targeted response to this emergency.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (22:09)
With that, we’re happy to turn over to questions.

Speaker 1: (22:12)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, with the Trump administration’s COVID-19 task force… Yesterday, he highly recommended that every state should put into effect a shelter in place order. Do you have a response to that?

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (22:23)
Oh, I think I’ve been responding to that all week. And the response is, that you can see, from what we’re doing in Arkansas with our targeted response is working here. And as Dr. Smith indicated, we’d love to have Dr. Fauci come down and see what we’re doing here. I think he’d be very pleased with our targeted response. Our targeted response, in some ways, is doing much more than a shelter in place in other states. So we’re being effective, and we’re reducing the growth of the curve to a large extent. And we’re going to monitor every day. And if the circumstances change it, we’ll take another look at it. But we like where we are right now.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (23:08)
Dr. Smith, I want you to address that.

Dr. Nate Smith: (23:13)
I would agree with what the governor said. If you look at our rate of growth, percentage wise, it’s among the lowest of the states right now. And so what we’re doing, seems to be working.

Dr. Nate Smith: (23:26)
Hospitalizations, we had pretty flat right now. We’ve had some increase, but not nearly what you’ve seen in many other states. We’re trying to get information just to see how well we’re doing or not doing. And one of the sources that we can use is Google Mobility Changes, for those who have opted for the location history on their phones, they use anonymous data to see how much movement is occurring. And if you look at our work site changes, we’ve had a 27% decrease.

Dr. Nate Smith: (24:02)
All right, changes. We’ve had a 27 percent decrease in work site mobility on that report, and that’s pretty similar to all of our surrounding States who have put in stay-at-home orders. I feel like we’re accomplishing something similar to what other States are doing with a stay-at-home order.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (24:24)
Yes ma’am.

Speaker 3: (24:25)
Can you talk about what families should do if they’re planning a funeral during this outbreak? Any recommendations on if there should be less than 10 people there, if there shouldn’t be a visitation? Just what should families do?

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (24:36)
Well, I know your answer but I’ll let you give it.

Dr. Nate Smith: (24:40)
Can you repeat that question for me?

Speaker 3: (24:42)
Just what families should do if they’re planning a funeral during this time, any recommendations?

Dr. Nate Smith: (24:47)
This is difficult. We do want to remember our loved ones who honor their lives, but we want to do it in a way that’s safe and does not risk COVID-19 spreading to other family members or friends, especially since we oftentimes have older individuals who want to be part of that. I think each family needs to take that and come up with a solution that works for them. There are a number of options. One is to have a small family gathering and then have a larger memorial service later on. Another would be to have it in a larger space and just have fewer people maintaining social distancing. Now with our new guidelines from CDC, perhaps have individuals wear masks.

Dr. Nate Smith: (25:35)
It’s very difficult in those times when we want to express grief not to be close to each other, but we don’t want to have additional individuals become sick or have unnecessary funerals. And I’m saying that also from personal experience. This last week, my wife’s uncle, who lives in another country, died from COVID-19 and we want to honor his life, remember him, but we won’t be having a large family funeral. We’ll pay our respects from afar.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (26:12)
Yes ma’am.

Speaker 4: (26:14)
With the change in this federal guideline on use of the stockpile, does that mean that you do not expect we will get the last third of our allocation from that stockpile?

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (26:27)
That’s correct.

Speaker 4: (26:27)
Is that right? We will not-

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (26:28)
That’s correct. That’s the way I understand it. We’ve got all that we’re going to get from the stockpile in terms of our protective gear for our hospitals. We have been busy, and that’s why we have our own resources and put $75 million to make our own acquisitions.

Speaker 4: (26:49)
And would you make public where the $10 million in state grants are going? Is that available somewhere?

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (26:57)
I’m sure it will be. I’m not sure it’s gone out the door yet. It’s been authorized. We’re coordinating with the Arkansas Hospital Association as to where those needs are. That’s what’s been allocated, but that certainly will be public information as to how that is dispensed. Yes ma’am.

Speaker 5: (27:21)
Has the state issued its order to Awaken Church in Jonesboro instructing regarding large group meetings, and if so, what has the church’s response been?

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (27:30)
They’ve been compliant. They understand the public health necessity, and so I applaud them for understanding it and by complying with it. We’ve really not had to issue a specific directive to them, because after the conversations with the Department of Health, they’ve agreed to comply with the public health directives and we’re grateful for that. Yes.

Speaker 4: (28:02)
How many in the Forest City Federal Detention Center have tested positive for Corona?

Dr. Nate Smith: (28:12)
Currently, we have three inmates and three staff. We are monitoring the situation carefully, testing others, and we’ll do that in partnership with CDC and other federal partners for as long as they need us.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (28:30)
Going remotely, is there anyone that’s on the line that would like to ask a question? There’s no one on the line today. Good. All right, is there one last question? All right. Yes. Do you have a question?

Speaker 5: (28:46)
Do you foresee issuing any kind of state directive related to masks?

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (28:52)
It’s guidance that’s been provided by the CDC, and so that guidance is not mandatory. And I know that Dr. Smith, he’s going to be issuing some guidance to the legislators and the public on that as well. Did you want to mention that guidance?

Dr. Nate Smith: (29:13)
At this point, I think this is a resource for people to use. If it seems to be taken up appropriately, I’m not sure that we need additional guidance beyond what the CDC has put out there, but we may give some guidance for use of masks in some specific settings as we see if that’s maybe being underutilized.

Governor Asa Hutchinson: (29:40)
Thank you all very much today, and grateful of you being here and making sure the public is aware of every step in this as we go through this together. Thank you very much.