Gov. Hutchinson sets May 4 as target date to begin reopening state economy (Updated)

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 16,113 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday noted the passing of Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. of Fort Smith. He was 42. Thacker is the first U.S. service member to die from the virus.

May 4 is the target date to begin “Phase 1” reopening of Arkansas’ economy, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday (April 17). He added that Arkansans will have to remain focused on social distancing and other COVID-19 containment guidelines to meet the May 4 goal.

The Phase 1 criteria are based on an outline provided Thursday by the Trump Administration that provides a uniform way for the national economy to reopen but gives each state flexibility to adjust based on their specific medical and economic realities.

COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 1,695 as of Friday afternoon, up from 1,620 on Thursday. Of the total of cases, 1,065 are active cases, with the remainder accounting for deaths and recoveries. The number of deaths remained the same at 37. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 93 on Friday, up from 85 on Thursday. As of Thursday at 1 p.m., there were 679,374 U.S. cases and 34,180 deaths, with 11,477 of those in New York City. Globally, there were 2,204,511 cases and 149,378 deaths.

Of the COVID-19 patients, 23 were on ventilators, up from 21 on Thursday. The number of healthcare workers with COVID-19 was 228, up from 223 on Thursday.

Gov. Hutchinson said he was pleased with the Phase 1 criteria because it seeks to coordinate the opening of the national economy but gives each state the flexibility to adjust based on their needs and different realities.

“Rather than everyone charting their own path, there is some commonality that we can start within the criteria they (White House) offered. … I think this is a good model and I like the fact that the President said that every state has the flexibility to adjust as needed for their own state,” he said.

Following are the criteria basics under which Arkansas and other states can begin to reopen their economies.

‘GATING CRITERIA’ TO ENTER PHASE 1
• Symptoms: Must be a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses reported within a 14-day period, and downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period.
• Cases: Must be a downward trajectory of cases within a 14-day period, or downward trajectory of positive tests within a 14-day period.
• Hospitals: Can treat all patients with crisis care, and robust testing program must be in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.

Phase 1 SPECIFIC TYPES OF OPENINGS
• School and organized youth activities should remain closed.
• Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should remain prohibited.
• Large venues – restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, churches – can operate under strict distancing protocols.
• Elective surgeries can resume, as clinically appropriate, on an outpatient basis at facilities that adhere to Centers for Medicaid Services guidelines.
• Gyms can open but must adhere to strict physical distancing rules and sanitation protocols.
• Bars should remain closed.

Phase 1 EMPLOYERS
• Telework should continue where possible.
• If possible, have employees return to work in phases.
• Close common areas where employees are likely to congregate and interact, or enforce strict distancing protocols.
• Non-essential travel should be avoided, and those who do travel should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on isolation after travel.
• Strongly consider special accommodations for employees who are members of a vulnerable population.

Phase 1 INDIVIDUALS
• All vulnerable individuals – elderly, those with underlying conditions – should continue to shelter in place. Members of households with vulnerable residents should take precautions to isolate from the vulnerable.
• When in public, physical distancing should be maintained, social settings should still be limited to no more than 10 unless appropriate distancing can be maintained.
• Non-essential travel should be avoided, and those who do travel should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on isolation after travel.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith expressed optimism that the state is on track to meet the May 4 date. He said the state is now able to offer testing to all symptomatic cases, and medical resources appear able to handle the crisis.

“In terms of our hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilator capacity, it looks like we’ll be able to meet the foreseeable needs,” he said.

He also urged businesses to begin preparing for reopening by establishing accommodations to allow distancing, and cleaning and sanitizing work areas. He also said the state may allow hospitals to return to elective procedures even before an official move into Phase 1. Overall, the governor’s medical advisory group is looking at all directives to see “how we can walk ourselves back” from the restrictions, Smith said.

Smith said there are four priorities the advisory group uses in its recommendations: Restoring the Arkansas economy as soon as possible; protecting the most vulnerable; maintaining adequate health care capacity, to include more contract tracing and more personal protective equipment; and, preventing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

He stressed that Arkansans must continue to practice social distancing and other measures to meet the May 4 goal. Gov. Hutchinson also stressed that Arkansans shouldn’t believe now is the time to ease up on containment measures.

“To achieve that goal of May 4 and meeting the criteria that are set out to go into Phase 1, we have to be able to manage the (COVID-19) spread to make sure we continue to reduce that, and we need everybody’s cooperation, as Dr. Smith said, in terms of social distancing and sticking with the guidelines and not giving up, and protecting one another.”

Gov. Hutchinson also on Friday noted the passing of Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. of Fort Smith. He was 42. Thacker was a sailor on the USS Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier with a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in the boat’s captain being dismissed after his memo urging the U.S. Navy to act was made public. Thacker is the first U.S. service member to die from the virus.

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