Gov. Asa Hutchinson disclosed that no new cases of COVID-19 materialized overnight, but he warned that ramped-up state testing may lead to a higher count.
Hutchinson’s daily update on the coronavirus response on Tuesday (March 17) was complemented by a federal press conference that outlined potential measures being taken to help businesses and those who may experience financial hardships.
In West Memphis, Hutchinson reported that there were zero new cases overnight in Arkansas leaving the current count at 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“We have to note we do not have the testing we need to be confident that we don’t have a greater issue than we have,” Hutchinson said, although there is an increase in test turnarounds happening through the state’s Public Health Laboratory and UAMS. Hutchinson said while Memphis has two known cases, there are no positive cases at this time in eastern Arkansas.
“We do not have testing that we need to be confident that we don’t have a greater issue than what we have. As testing increases, it is likely the number of cases that have been identified as well,” he said.
Hutchinson has directed all three casinos operating in state to halt operations for the next two weeks. That includes Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Southland in West Memphis, and Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. About 900 hourly workers will be impacted by the closure.
The governor and Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston outlined measures the state is taking to assist laid-off workers during this period where schools have been closed, businesses have been asked to reduce operations, and social distancing is encouraged.
Hutchinson said state officials are working to make it easier to file for unemployment insurance. He has directed the Commerce Department to waive the one-week waiting period for laid-off workers to receive benefits to make them immediately eligible. Hutchinson’s order also waives a work-search requirement for 30 days and cuts requirements to apply for the benefits in person and will allow for online filing.
President Donald Trump also took to the podium on Tuesday to discuss ideas for financial relief for businesses and individuals. While the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan, administration-supported package late Friday (March 13), the U.S. Senate is contemplating differing legislation.
To possibly shore up the economy at the domestic level, the president expressed his support for an idea floated by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, to send most American adults a $1,000 check. The president said the checks could be sent within the next two weeks, depending on Congressional action.
“Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now — and I mean in the next two weeks,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at the White House briefing.
The checks are a part of a financial stimulus package that could reach $1 trillion.
Mnuchin also reiterated the federal government’s stance that the U.S stock markets should remain open. Volatility in the financial markets has triggered mandatory shutdowns to stem huge one-day losses, like Monday’s nearly 3,000 point drop by the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The Dow Jones recovered nearly 700 points in Tuesday’s trading session.
Vice President Mike Pence said the government was urging construction companies not to buy any more N95 face masks and to donate face masks that they have to local hospitals.
The president said he has not totally dismissed travel restrictions to parts of the country, but did urge people not to travel.