Economic recovery group plans late May interim report; prison COVID-19 cases rise to 670

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,881 views 

Steuart Walton, chair of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Economic Recovery Task Force, speaks Tuesday (April 21) during the governor’s daily COVID-19 press conference.

The economic task force appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson met Tuesday (April 21) to begin discussing how best to reopen the state economy. The group plans to issue an interim report at the end of May, said task force chair Steuart Walton.

Walton is the grandson of Walmart founders Helen and Sam Walton, and a member of the Walmart board of directors. He said the group hopes to have some ideas to the governor by May 4, with follow up reports by the end of May and June.

“Informed by Dr. Smith [Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith] and the work of the Department of Health, the task force is working hard to develop an initial set of recommendations for Arkansas by May 4,” Walton said Tuesday during Gov. Hutchinson’s daily COVID-19 press conference. “Subsequent to that, our tentative plan is to produce an interim report by the end of May, and then a final report from the committee by the end of June.”

Gov. Hutchinson on April 17 set May 4 as the target date to begin a “Phase 1” reopening of Arkansas’ economy.

Walton said the group will also include a “strategic set of recommendations” for businesses “that will really help us thrive in the recovery and far into the future.” Asked during the Q&A session which business sectors may open first, Walton hinted, “It’s obvious that I need a haircut.”

The task force created three primary committees, Walton said. Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst will lead the committee on tourism, community and healthcare; Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston will lead the committee on commerce; and Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward will lead the committee on agriculture, grocery and education.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 2,227 as of Tuesday afternoon, up from 1,923 on Monday. Of the 304 new cases between Monday and Tuesday, 262 were in the Cummins Unit prison of the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Of the total of cases, 1,375 are active, with the remainder accounting for deaths and recoveries. The number of deaths rose from 42 to 43. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 86 on Tuesday, down from 93 on Monday. As of Tuesday at 1 p.m., there were 788,920 U.S. cases and 42,458 deaths. Globally, there were 2,501,156 cases and 171,810 deaths.

Of the COVID-19 patients, 27 were on ventilators, up from 24 on Monday. The number of healthcare workers with COVID-19 was 249, up from 244 on Monday.

Dr. Smith said there are now 670 inmates at Cummins who have tested positive for COVID-19, and 10 employees. He said the state has finished testing inmates deemed necessary to test, but not all the test results are in the system. He said the state is now testing prison employees.

Gov. Hutchinson also announced Tuesday the creation of the COVID-19 Testing Working Group to expand the state’s ability to conduct testing and take other measures to know more about the reach of COVID-19 in the state.

The group was scheduled to hold its first virtual meeting at 3 p.m., Tuesday.

“Arkansas’ ability to conduct adequate diagnostic and surveillance testing will affect the state’s public-health strategy and economic-recovery efforts after Arkansas reaches its peak number of COVID-19 cases,” Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement. “As we prepare to shift Arkansas’s economy out of low gear, it is important for us to have more comprehensive information about the spread of COVID-19 in the state.”

The governor said capacity is improving, but testing labs remain “challenged’ in terms of obtaining testing materials. He also said a long-term goal of the group is to prepare the testing system for a potential return of the virus in the fall.

Following are members of the Governor’s COVID-19 Testing Working Group.
• Dr. Nathaniel Smith, Arkansas Department of Health
• Dr. Glen Baker, Arkansas Department of Health
• Dr. Naveen Patil, Arkansas Department of Health
• Dr. Katie Seely, Arkansas Department of Health
• Dr. Jennifer Hunt, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
• Dr. Jose Romero, ADH, UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital
• Dr. Atul Kothari, ADH, UAMS
• Mr. Robin Mitchell, Arkansas Children’s
• Dr. Bobby Boyanton, Arkansas Children’s