Gov. Hutchinson: Dr. Birx says Arkansas on the right track but more work needed

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,084 views 

White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised Arkansas’ COVID-19 response efforts but said the state had more to do, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday (Aug. 17) during his daily COVID-19 briefing.

Dr. Birx, a global health specialist, was at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock on Monday to participate in a roundtable discussion about the state’s COVID-19 situation.

The governor said Birx noted that Arkansas is doing a good job reducing the state’s positive rate and case growth, but “we still have more work to do here in Arkansas” to contain the virus. According to Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero, Birx said a majority of COVID transmission is now “community and familial,” which is often large gatherings in a community or with family.

“Being outside and getting together doesn’t mean you’re not going to spread the virus. So, when you get more than 10 people together, there is certainly a risk to do that, whether that be in the family or whether that be in the community. We urge caution in doing so. We urge avoiding that if possible,” Romero said.

Birx also notified Gov. Hutchinson that the federal government has acquired much of the nation’s antigen testing supplies and prioritized nursing homes with the tests. That move will delay when Arkansas can fully use the 200 antigen testing machines it ordered. Gov. Hutchinson has said part of the school opening will see the 200 BD Veritor antigen testing kits ordered by the Arkansas Department of Public Health placed at public health units around the state with a focus on quick testing for students, teachers and others in public schools.

Gov. Hutchinson said, in a response to a media question, he is not willing to say the state is on a definitive downward trend of known COVID-19 cases.

“Clearly we have a downward trend over the last week to 10 days. I’m not necessarily saying that is going to continue, because that all depends on the individual behavior of people in Arkansas. … I am hopeful that it will be a consistent downward trend, but no, I’m not in the predictive mode when it comes to the coronavirus,” he said.

A potential concern with respect to a rise in COVID cases is when students return to college, Gov. Hutchinson acknowledged.

“In terms of college kids, it’s going to be a challenge. This is where the universities need to educate, and they also need to have a plan whenever a student doesn’t behave properly, or carefully. So, sure that’s a worry,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

Also on Monday, the CARES Act Steering Committee approved a $20 million request by the Arkansas Department of Education to provide up to two weeks of compensation for teachers and “classified” support staff who have to quarantine because of COVID-19. The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 53,077 on Monday, up from 52,665 on Sunday, with 4,093 test results from the previous 24 hours. Testing was again well below the 5,500-6,000 that were typical since early June. Of the 412 new cases, 12 were from correctional facilities. There are 6,341 active cases.

The number of deaths rose from 599 to 603. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 486 on Monday, up from 478 on Sunday. There are 120 patients on ventilators, unchanged from Sunday. There are 46,133 cumulative recovered cases. The positivity rate was 8.9%, up from 8.8% on Thursday.

The only two counties with 20 or more cases was Pulaski (54) and Sebastian (21).

As of Monday at 1 p.m., there were 5,414,381 U.S. cases and 170,178 deaths. Globally, there were 21,749,240 cases and 776,395 deaths.