Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday (Aug. 28) encouraged Arkansans to wear masks but did not directly answer questions about Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who did not wear a mask in pictures of her at Thursday’s Republican National Convention event on the White House lawn.
Rutledge is pictured in photos – including with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. – in which she and the other person are not wearing a mask at the crowded event. Few, if any, in the background of the photos are wearing masks or engaged in social distancing. Rutledge posted the pics on her Twitter feed.
Following a second day in which new COVID-19 cases topped 600 and deaths posted double-digit increases, Gov. Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero spent several minutes during Friday’s daily COVID briefing asking Arkansans and college students to be more careful in their activities and to continue to follow all health guidelines established by the Arkansas Department of Health. The admonition followed a second day in which new COVID-19 cases topped 600 and deaths posted double-digit increases.
“And now it comes to the weekend. And I would remind everyone that we have to be responsible in the weekend because what happens with our behavior on the weekend will impact us next week and the week beyond in terms of our schools, our workplace, our families,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “We can’t just say let’s have a party this weekend, or let’s have a good backyard barbecue and invite 30 people over. We have to follow the social distancing guidelines on the weekend and that’s important for us.”
Romero said an “alarming amount” of new cases among students on the Fayetteville campus of the University of Arkansas is a reminder that people must be careful in congregant settings. According to Romero, one-third of 75 recent tests among UA students were positive. Romero said testing events on the UA campus will be held next Tuesday and Thursday, and next Thursday at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville.
“If we do not bring this under control, it can spread from the campus environment into the community environment. So it’s very important that you maintain the basic tenets that we’ve always talked about, which are masking, social distancing, or physical distancing, and use of hand sanitizers,” Romero said.
When asked if Rutledge was, as a state officer, sending the right message with the photos in which she and others were unmasked, Gov. Hutchinson said the “right message” is we must be “self disciplined” and “self-restrained,” but he avoided a direct answer.
“I don’t know all the circumstances of that event. I know that when I went to the White House I had to have a test done, and so hopefully those types of precautions were taken. It is important to set the right example, it is important to wear a mask, and that’s what Dr. Romero was certainly advocating. We need to continue to do that and lead in that because that is the tool we have. If we don’t have that, then all of a sudden we’re having to put restrictions on economic activity, on schools, and it has all kinds of consequences,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
In a second question asking if Rutledge set a good example at the event, Gov. Hutchinson again sidestepped, saying instead that his experience is that when with the Attorney General she is “always wearing a mask” and “doing exactly what she should do.”
When asked about the question of setting an example with the photos, Rutledge’s office provided this response to Talk Business & Politics: “I was honored to be invited to the White House by President Trump for his acceptance speech and enjoyed visiting with numerous friends and colleagues including Cabinet members, U.S. Senators and Representatives, governors and civic leaders. I followed the guidelines regarding masks for each venue.”
Rutledge and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin are the only two to announce for the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2022.
COVID CASE COUNTS
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 59,583 on Thursday, up from 58,745 on Wednesday, with 6,360 test results from the previous 24 hours. Of the 838 new cases, 181 were from correctional facilities. There are 5,496 active cases.
The number of deaths rose from 739 to 756. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 407 on Friday, down from 433 on Thursday. There are 95 patients on ventilators, down from 99 on Thursday. There were 5 cumulative recovered cases.
The top five counties with new known cases were: Pulaski (66), Benton (49), Washington (41), Pope (39) and Faulkner (29). The five counties accounted for 34% of the 657 new community cases.
As of Friday at 1 p.m., there were 5,889,652 U.S. cases and 181,186 deaths. Globally, there were 24,551,207 cases and 833,239 deaths.