Gov. Hutchinson says state not ready for regional reopening of economy

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,366 views 

With the number of new known COVID-19 cases rising almost 13% over the weekend, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday (June 8) he is delaying any move to open further the economy on a regional basis. He said the option remains open, but “not right now.”

In the previous week, the governor said he was considering moving to a phase two reopening of economic sectors in regions of the state where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were stable. Most of the new cases and hospitalizations in the past week have come from Benton and Washington counties in Northwest Arkansas. The Sunday data shows Benton with 956 cases and Washington with 1,016 cases, just behind Pulaski County – the state’s most populous county – with 1,103 cases.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 9,740 on Monday, up from 9,426 on Sunday, and up 12.6% from the 8,651 cases on Friday. Of the 314 new cases, 13 were from correctional facilities. Of the total cases, 2,955 are active cases, 106 are in correctional facilities and 139 in nursing homes. The number of deaths rose from 154 to 155. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 171 on Monday, up from 145 on Sunday. There are 46 patients on ventilators, up from 35 on Sunday. There are 6,630 Arkansans who have recovered.

As of Monday at 1 p.m., there were 1,951,111 U.S. cases and 110,734 deaths. Globally, there were 7,065,597 cases and 404,021 deaths.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said the new case count and number of hospitalizations in recent days is “quite an increase,” but there is no threat to hospital capacity. He said the Arkansas Department of Health is working to ensure no one hospital is “overtaxed.” Of the 301 new community cases reported Monday, 42.2% were from Benton (41) and Washington (86) counties. Smith also said as of the previous 24 hours the state conducted 28,862 tests in June, ahead of the needed pace to reach the monthly target of 120,000 tests.

“We’re not ready to make any jumps or changes in that direction,” Gov. Hutchinson said about the possibility of regional reopenings. “We will continue to evaluate exactly what is the option if there should be an option from how we’re looking at the state.”

The governor outlined six things “we know” about what the numbers are saying about the virus in Arkansas.
1. All five regions of the state are all at different stages of the epidemic.
2. The data shows that the new cases are not related to the lifting of the restrictions.
3. The future pandemic spread is not predictive in terms of geography.
4. Increased testing helps show where the new cases are and how to respond.
5. Self-discipline and social discipline “is a must” no matter the region in which a person lives.
6. The economy must keep moving, generating jobs and allow people to “make a living.”

Steuart Walton, chairman of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force, said he is “concerned but optimistic” about the pandemic numbers, and said the state is”taking targeted steps with better information” when making economic decisions. He said Monday the state is “on balance, doing better than other states” in terms of the economy.

Walton, a Bentonville-based entrepreneur and member of the Walmart board of directors, reiterated that observing rules on wearing masks and social distancing will help the state economy recover. He said the goal of a new marketing campaign pushed by the task force is to provide information on “when to wear a mask, when you need to wear a mask … getting people to comply with the social distancing norms, really encouraging people to practice social distancing, and listen to the owners of restaurants or gyms …”