201027_COVID-19 Press Briefing
8:27PM Oct 27, 2020
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Dr. Jose Romero
Secretary Johnny Key (ADE)
Josh White - KAIT
Good afternoon to everyone. Thanks for joining me today for the weekly COVID update. I am joined remotely by Secretary johnnie key of the Department of Education, as well as being joined by Secretary Jose ro Romero of the Department of Health, I want to express my appreciation for them joining us today, even though that is remotely, and I first want to express appreciation to all those across Arkansas, who gathered in churches and synagogues, to pray for our country, and to pray for our state during this pandemic. And for all those who are ill and in hardships because of it as well. I was particularly drawn attention to an email from a lady in northeast Arkansas who wrote me and said, Your proclamation was read to a mask group of Northeast Arkansas Christians that prayed for our state, country and families. And so thank you for sharing that. And thanks for emphasizing the importance of wearing a mask even while we are praying for our country. And now, let's talk about this pandemic and where we are right now. And there are some who say that we are losing the battle as we fight this virus, and that we just have to live with it. Well, I like history and historical references. And I'm reminded of the words of john paul Jones, who was fighting the British during the Revolutionary War by ship of course. And during the course of the battle, the British commander
communicated with Admiral Jones and said, Are you ready to surrender? And his response was, I have not yet begun to fight. and subsequent to that he was able to capture the British ship. And that historical reference, I think, has application today, at least in my attitude that while this is a tough time, and we know we're going to go through a tough time in the winter, we have to be prepared to fight. And I am prepared to fight. And that's what we've got to do every day. And so while these are difficult times, I want everyone to know that when I wake up in the morning, I wake up thinking, what more can we do? How can we engage in this fight greater? How could we influence everyone's behavior in in order to stop the spread of the virus. And today, we are testing at record levels. We have improved our medicines, therapeutics and treatment. And we have more engagement from our Kansans all across the board, in terms of following our public health guidelines and doing what is necessary. And I want to share everyone that when you wear a mask, and everyone who quarantines and answers the call of the contact tracer. And everyone who is careful is making a difference every day. And I want to thank you. And now let's go to today's case report. If you look at our confirmed PCR cases, they have increased by 651, which brings our cumulative PCR tests to 100,061. We've had 27 additional hospitalizations. That brings us to 676. We have 20 additional deaths of our Kansans, which is the saddest note that we can recite today, that brings our total to 1696. These are of the confirmed cases. We also have probable cases as a result of our antigen testing and other means. And the antigen testing showed additional probable cases of 301. And that brings both our confirmed and our probable cases, to 952 over the last 24 hours. In terms of our testing, we've had PCR testing of 7000. And we've had our antigen testing in 1795. As you know, I start I like comparing to a week ago, because that avoids you can compare specific time to specific time, and it's more relevant. And compared to a week ago. We went from 844 cases to 952 today, and in testing we went from 7800 tests to eight to 8007 95 tests. So our cases went up a little bit about 100. And our testing went up about 1000. And so I think we're comparable to where we would be last week. But we'll see where that goes. In the coming days. Let's go through the graph. And this just shows us the new COVID cases, in Arkansas by case type, the red are the confirmed cases and the white are the probable cases. And you can see again, comparing to the week previous, where we are a little bit from that timeline. And then let's go to the next one, that gives you the trend line. And this is of confirmed and probable cases. And you can see that that trend line, people say we're in the third wave today, which means you had a wave, you had a wave, and now we're going up again into the third wave, we've got to work very hard to come down from that wave safely and to get the train line down. Next is the average daily average of new confirmed cases in Arkansas. And this is by week just to show that this week is up over the last week. And it is the highest week that we've had. And so we are at a record level right now in terms of confirmed cases. hospitalizations is mirroring that has gone up a little bit more. And let me just say, and I know Dr. Merrill will comment on this more. But in talking to the hospitals, they have added the half capacity for the patients, they're happy to work together to do this for our COVID. But what we don't want to have to happen is that we have to start cutting back on elective procedures. These are very important to the economic health of the hospitals, but it's just as important to the health of our patients and our population. So we need to work to get our cases down to get our hospitalizations down. The active cases, that is a little bit of good news that we have our active cases that are down, we have
a decrease of 81 active cases in Arkansas, that ultimately if they keep going down will lead to reduction hospitalizations. And then you'll see what we like to do weekly is to compare the different public health regions as to how they're doing, what the trend lines are, and where we've got more work. And what's interesting this week is that you have northeast Arkansas and northwest Arkansas, in the orange and the blue. And they are going up and down right together. I mean, there's hardly any difference in terms of the number of new cases that we see right now. And then third would be the central district, Central Arkansas. And then the fourth and fifth would be southeast and southwest that are in a better position. But clearly, in northeast Northwest, we continue to have work to be done. The growth, right, we always like to look at where are the new cases coming from. And again, this is breaking it down by region, just showing it a different way. So in the northeast, we have a 7.7% growth of new COVID cases over the last week eight, October 18 to October 24. And then Northwest even though they're still high in the number of cases, their percent growth is significantly down with a central actually having a 5.7% growth rate. And then if you look at it by age group, and this is changed, because previously we've had some of the lower age groups have it an increase. And now it is that 65 plus. And the good news is that we can see in our colleges are young adults 18 to 24 age group have actually changed their behavior. And we've seen active cases in our colleges going down. But we see our increase in our 65 plus which is a great concern because they're the most vulnerable. They're the ones with the highest risk, because they also are the ones that can get it from children and others as well. This is something I want to focus on just for saying it because it is a key part of our strategy of what we're doing which is testing and if you will remember because we have about 3 million in Arkansas population wise that if we test 2% of the population That is 60,000 test every, every month, well, we have far exceeded that and we set a goal. As you can see, we're at 258,000 in terms of our PCR test, and then you'll see on the next slide, go ahead to that the antigen test that we have 34,000. And which means that you combine our antigen testing and our PCR testing this month, I expect us to reach 300,000 tests in Arkansas this month, which means we'll be testing not 2% of the population, or four or six or eight, but we'll be testing 10% of the Arkansas population this month, that is applaud to our healthcare workers and our Department of Health and everyone for getting a test when you need a test or you have a question about it. That's a really significant progress that we've made. And then we'll just see the positivity, right that we're below the 10%. But we watch it because it has edged up a little bit over the last week. And then I think that's about it. You see the rolling average of this is the antigen test. That's always higher than what the PCR tests are. And that concludes those points on the briefing. And let me at this time, ask Dr. Romero. If he would make his comments, please.
Thank you, Governor. So as the governor mentioned, we have had an increased number of deaths. The vast majority of those deaths are coming from nursing home individuals. So of the of the number of deaths reported 16 were from nursing homes. We have 14 counties over 20 cases. And the top four counties are pretty much the ones that we have always seen, which are Pulaski County, with 146 cases Benton with 77, Washington was 72 and Craig had 66. And this represents both the PCR confirmed cases and the antigen probable cases. So let me go back to the issue of hospitalizations. The hospitalizations have increased and they are increasing. We believe that a good portion of that may represent the older individuals that we're seeing the largest growth rate in a larger percentage change. We know that persons over 65 years of age are at higher risk for adverse occurrences and for complications of the disease and for death. And that increases over age. So I think that the hospitalizations are mirroring the number of individuals in the older age groups that are being needing medical care. I'm leaving that right now. Let me talk about about one other thing that happened this week, we had a visit from operation warp speed. As you all know,
they are in charge
of the development, testing and logistics of providing the vaccine to the states when they are approved by the FDA and the CDC. We spoke with him at length this month this week on Monday, and are beginning to plan for receipt of that vaccine. As soon as it is available. We are identifying sites where this vaccine can be shipped to more than likely these vaccines will need to be kept at ultra cold storage. And we're looking for sites to do that. So we are in preparation for that. Lastly, let me cut let me talk a little bit about the upcoming holidays. As you can see, the number of cases that are increasing impact primarily on the older age groups individuals, I think it's very important that we seriously consider whether it is appropriate to bring our families together during this time, especially with regard to the older individuals in our family reunion. We know that across the country, reunions, family reunions, family gatherings are the sources where most of these infections are occurring now. So I asked you all to really consider whether it is appropriate to bring your elderly together and to spend time with them. Both in the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year's holidays. I think that considerations for the number of cases that we're having and the age group really bit way into that decision. So I'll stop there and turn that back over to the governor or Secretary a key.
Thank you Dr. Romero, and let me set the stage for a sector Secretary Keyes comments on our schools. First, you will recall that we set up an antigen testing plan in which we distributed percent of the antigen test to our schools. K through 12, to our department of corrections to work with the staff and their priorities, also our election workers. And in so we set out that priority, and the schools are putting that into place. I know that Secretary p gave a report on that. But first, I want to say I was pleased to see that in our K through 12 schools, the number of active cases decreased week over week. And whenever you see the challenge that we see statewide, the fact that they have decreased in K through 12 active cases, and that they have decreased, I believe it is two weeks in a row at the college level indicates that we can control behavior, we can make a difference and have mitigate against the risk with that Secretary key.
Thank you, Governor. Today, I want to report on the on site modifications, as well as the rapid testing pilot that is kicking off. First of all, last week, we saw 11 schools that made modifications for their on site operations. That's important because that is the lowest number, the lowest weekly number of on site modifications that we have seen since school began. Right now we have 17, whole active modifications for on site instruction. And we've had 169 now that are inactive, which means districts had made modifications, but then returned to normal on site operations. As far as the rapid testing pilot, we had announced 14 schools that had been identified, we've been working with those schools. To date, eight of those schools have opted in to the rapid testing pilot. five schools over four districts have asked for more time, or have not yet responded. And so we will be following up with those districts as well. One school has declined participation in that pilot to date. The Health Department is working very hard to get the test kits shipped to the sites. And we'll be doing so by Thursday, at which point, the testing or excuse me, the training will begin. And once all training is complete, then we will be on target to start the testing as the screening testing that we have these binax hit by Monday. We are also looking at the second round and identifying a group of 20 schools that will be identified for the second round of distribution in this pilot. We will be working to finish that by today and then making contact with those schools later on this week. Governor thank you and that that's the end of my report. All right,
Secretary key Are these the by next now cards and kits that you'll be distributing to the schools? Can you see that?
I can't say governor um, maybe Dr. Romero can see that better than I can?
Well, since you sent those over to me, I think these are the ones but thank you for working to get those out. With that will turn out for questions. And we have a number of attendees remotely on this. And so let me recognize Central Arkansas reporters first if you have any questions.
This is Andrew with AP.
What is check
net with your your your comment about hospitalizations up? It makes sure I understood what you were saying. Are you looking at
reimposing limits on elective surgery if hospitalizations either get worse or don't improve? And more broadly on
that? What other steps do you think would need to be looked at if hospitalizations get worse? And if there's an issue with capacity either statewide or in regions of the state?
Well, first I applaud our hospitals that work together very closely. If they have a capacity issue in terms of their COVID patients they can call an adjoining hospital, sister hospital or, and and coordinate to make sure the care is provided. They coordinate the numbers and the balance. And so they're doing an extraordinary job. Now, as you look at the numbers, you know, it's been very important as I said that we both take care of non COVID patients and their medical needs as well as our COVID patients. And so you don't want to have to cut back on either one of those. There's not any plan to put any additional restrictions on elective procedures. But I know that the hospitals have to make their own adjustments within their hospitals to balance their COVID patients and their other medical needs. In terms of what we do planning wise, Dr. Romero and I have met this week we have talked about that he's met with the hospital teams, and coordinating with them to make sure we are prepared in the event. There is additional stress on the system. The biggest concern is our staffing issues. And there's just not a good answer for that ever made. It has to be handled by each local hospital. But there's a great need for additional medical teams that can handle ice use beds they can handle in all the other needs in the hospital. And we hope that we can keep that flow of personnel available to them. And that's one of the things that we have to look at. Dr. Meredith, do you have anything else to add on that?
I would, Governor if I may. So one other comment, I think that's important to keep in mind is that the number of ICU beds occupied by patients with covid does not fill the total number of ICU beds available. That is to say that the the number of ICU beds that are occupied by other conditions outside of COVID are the majority of the cases in the ICU at this time. So there are ICU beds available if they're if these other causes of occupying them are removed from the system. And as the governor pointed out very clearly, the hospitals have agreements among themselves to transfer patients between the regions if necessary. So thank you. Thank you, Governor.
Yes, Governor, this is Shelby Rose with CHANNEL SEVEN. My questions actually, for Secretary key. You mentioned that one school opted out of the pilot program. What school was that? Did they get a reason as to why?
Yes, that was Springdale School District. They had one school there that had been identified as a potential candidate. That was one of their elementary schools. I think it was Hart elementary school. And I talked to Dr. Jared Cleveland, the superintendent about that. And he said that they had very strong partnerships in their district with area medical providers. And that if it became a situation where this pilot could be expanded, and they could do something district wide, that they might be interested in. But with this being one elementary school and the resources that they already have available in their area, he felt and his board felt that it was more appropriate to allow their free sources to be distributed across the state, rather than for them to opt in at this time.
Yes, this is Melissa ziggu, with the channel 11. Back to the hospitalization question. If they do continue to go up, have you looked at placing more restrictions on businesses, if we see a big increase still?
Now the solution to control the spread of the virus is not restrictions on businesses, the solution is people watching their own discipline in terms of wearing a mass socially distancing, protecting others from the spread of the virus, that is the solution. So we can reduce hospitalization reduce the number of cases, and that is what needs to be done, versus putting additional restrictions on businesses, which adds to a whole host of additional challenges that we face from unemployment, to loss, businesses, foreclosures. And so that is the approach that I take. And that's where I asked for the help of our Kansans. And we do, actively tried to engage in enforcement in education, to make sure that happens, in addition to very good marketing plan through the Department of Health right now. Obviously, down the road, we don't know what the future holds and everything can be on the table in terms of considerations depending upon the level of challenges that we face. But I don't anticipate that even though we have to understand that that could be an option that we have to consider at some point. Next question.
I given are this is Josh white kbit? Yes, um, I was last time you and I spoke. I said what can you do for northeast Arkansas and your response was was What can northeast Arkansas do for itself? And I, that prompted us to talk to several mayors, police chiefs and everything. One Mayor gave this quote, the governor didn't pass a law that would legally punish people. We're in the same situation. It's a difficult situation. We cannot arrest people, we can recommend for people to follow guidelines. I don't know what else we can do fines are not happening on the state level. How can it happen on a city level?
Well, let's let's be specific here that first of all, fines are happening at the state level, in terms of businesses that do not comply with the public health guidelines that impact that their regulate their business. And so those fines do happen. Secondly, when I issued the executive order for wearing a mask, when you cannot socially distance, it required, it did provide for a penalty. And so there is a fine that can be levied for disobedience with that mandate, it does have to be preceded by a warning by law enforcement. And so there is authority within the local police, local law enforcement, to both educate, to give warnings and if necessary, to issue a citation is not does not provide for arrest, but arrest are not necessary. And there's some questions there. And I have made the point that our objective is not to arrest people, our objective is to encourage compliance. And for my belief, this is working, it can work better, people can do more, and you're always going to have a percent that just says fully on it, I don't want to do it. But I think what we see from from the spread of the virus, and even in northeast Arkansas, it is essential to do this. And I've asked for the support and the Municipal League has been very, very helpful in the mayor's have been helpful. And they've talked to their law enforcement personnel to, you know, remind businesses to remind individuals, whenever particularly when we have a large gathering, those are the circumstances that we ask for the support locally, just to remind people of their responsibility and their guidelines. Next question.
Afternoon, Governor neopolitan are in hot springs, I want to ask about the growth in the 65 plus category. And is that predominantly because of nursing homes? And if so, is that telling us something about the diligence at some particular facilities?
And I'll let Dr. Merrill comment on that, of course, as well. But let me start by saying that in it's not unusual that the growth, well that that vulnerable population has the greatest level of hospitalization, and the greatest level of deaths because they are older and have those underlying health conditions in many circumstances. The nursing homes are a part of this. Because, you know, they have even more severe health issues. But I think the point is that, if you look back and that trend line, and a couple of weeks ago, we saw higher levels of growth. Why is that happening now? And I don't, I don't know the answer. It appears to me that one, even the college kids started taking this more seriously. And, and that's encouraging sign. I don't think we see any Laxey laksa days ago less in terms of our 65 Plus, but perhaps we're being more careless in our social gatherings, our family gatherings, that we're not mindful that it can spread to a young person to an adult, that it could have more severe consequences, Dr. Romero?
Yes, sir. Thank you very much. So, Neil, to answer your question. So part of this is contributed by the nursing home patients, but there are a significant number of these cases coming from the community. So it is the 65 year old in general, 60 year old in general, that is, that is increasing 18%, I think was the increase that we saw last week. And I want to echo what the governor has said that, I think that up until this point, up until a week or so ago, we saw the this older age group, sequestering themselves taking care of themselves and avoiding these contacts. And now that more family gatherings are occurring, they are exposing themselves to individuals that are asymptomatic and can transmit disease. I want to remind everyone That up to 40% of all individuals can have no symptoms whatsoever of COVID. And they can easily spread it. And those are the ones that are the most, if you will dangerous for for the elderly, because they don't manifest any symptoms whatsoever. So we are seeing cases in the nursing home, we certainly are seeing cases in the community. And I think it has to do with the fact that we are engaged in many more socially, social interactions among the families.
Are there any questions?
Are there any questions from Northwest?
Hi, Governor, this is Allie Lynch with channel five. A recent article from Salt Lake Tribune came out stating that hospitals in Utah may soon be rationing medical care, because of the surge in cases, administrators there have drafted a list of protocols using a patient's age held and other factors due to the to remain in ICU to the overflow of cases. Do you anticipate any type of protocols like this happening here in Arkansas?
I do not. We have. First of all, we're not anywhere close to the cap on our hospital capacity. Whenever you look at how much hospital capacity we have in the state versus where we are, there is a large Delta. Now obviously, you want to use that delta for a lot of other hospital needs. But in terms of our covid care, we're not anywhere close to what they're facing in El Paso, what they're facing in Utah. And we want to keep it that way. While we've had an increase over time, in our cases, it has been a gradual increase, it is almost been a well, I'll just leave it at that it's been a gradual increase rather than a larger scale increase that you've seen in, in other cities. So it's just a reminder of where we can be if we're not committed to this fight. It reminds us of where we can be and we don't want to be there. So right now, we've got incredible hospitals, we got a broad range geographically across the state are doing amazing job, Dr. Romero, do you have any other comment there?
Just to reiterate what I said earlier today, that the our ICU beds are not being occupied all by COVID patients, the majority of those beds are being occupied by non COVID patients. So we have the capacity to move a number of those patients, if we have a new surgeon in COVID cases, to use those ICU beds over to you.
And I will remark that as I checked in with the hospital this week, we actually had patients from two different states in the hospital. And so while the systems are strained, it's good to know that we are being good neighbors as well, whenever we have to care for someone. Next question.
Afternoon, Governor, it's Brett Raines with 4029 News. We've got a big Halloween weekend coming up as well as November 3 elections, your concerns and we also want to know how you're doing this press conference is all virtual. And the second topic is you and the Attorney General and Secretary of State's offices said, You're absolutely confident that all valid absentee votes will be counted regardless of how long it takes. Should that be something that should be addressed or clarified via executive order, or legislators since the law currently says they shall be tallied prior to the polls close?
If there's any issue there, if it's necessary to clarify, perhaps it can be clarified. But our statement is clear. And that has been our custom in practice is to count all the votes that are timely presented. So I'll leave that there. In reference to myself. I've been negative through all my tests. And that illustrates that you have been in this room in which we have eight feet of distance between myself and anybody I visit with that social distancing does make a difference. So our tests are negative. You know, I've been careful and limited my public engagements that should end this Thursday evening, or Friday morning early and so we'll get back to normal duties. And then finally you ask about Halloween. And one, just be careful this Halloween. I know kids want to go out they want to dress up there's you've got to be creative so that you don't add to the spread or endanger the children or the people they visit with. So you've got to make sure that the mask are worn and these are not Halloween mask but real cloth mask That you can practice social distancing, I know that whenever we distribute candidate, we're not going to be placing it in the bag, we're going to let them pick it up and put it in themselves. So that there is that distance that we can maintain. So we want to enjoy, we want to not deprive the children and those that enjoy Halloween have that but we've got to be careful and particularly limit the gatherings in which the virus can spread. Next question.
receipt of home in
Memphis, Tennessee, in regards to the sir, the increasing cases in northeast Arkansas. This is a question for Dr. Romero. Is it surprising given the location of these counties? And how long is it?
So I'm sorry, I'm
not quite sure I understand your question. Are you asking if it's significant that the
that's pretty main bite you got there?
It's a Scotty I'm sorry.
He ran in here. So
could you please repeat the question?
Yes, um, is it surprising that there is a surge in cases in northeast Arkansas given the location of these counties? I mean, they're pretty close to the Tennessee State line and then the Missouri.
So no, we do not believe that these are spillover cases from another state. These are there can be some of these cases that do come from them. But I think the majority of them are endogenous within our own within our own state. So I think the vast majority are occurring within our own areas, and not really the result of contiguous states, leading to infection in our state. Did I answer your question?
Yes, you did. Thank you. Thank you.
Any other questions?
Hi, Governor. This is Josh again. And Kitt. I wanted to follow up real quick, you said that enforcement that they that wall enforcement should be enforcing it here. This comes after whenever you did the mask mandate, almost every single Sheriff's Department and City Police Department said that they would not enforce it to the point of a fine. Northeast Arkansas continues to lead. We've been up here saying that we have to look out for each other have to look out for each other. What is northeast Arkansas going to do? We are leaving the state now. I think for six straight weeks. Are you looking at following what Missouri and Tennessee and Mississippi have done which is put individual mask mandates on individual counties to get them under control. And by the way, we had all 11 hospitals in our viewing area send out a Health Advisory this morning talking about the surge and the limited space they have in their hospitals.
I spoke with northeast Arkansas hospital, specifically yesterday about that I was aware of their news tape. And I'm delighted that they're making that comment to encourage people to help them out by trying to reduce the number of cases. I think I've answered your question previously, you reference Missouri and you reference Tennessee. Neither in Missouri nor in Tennessee, has the governor issued a statewide mask mandate I have in this state. It obviously depends upon local law enforcement, by and large to be able to educate on that and to be able to give a warning ticket warning citation. There's actions that can be taken locally to remind people of their responsibility. I think we've taken the right approach here in Arkansas, we just have to urge compliance and when we can to make sure that the local communities are engaged also in helping us in partnering with us to make sure there's mass compliance in their area. Any other questions?
One last one governor I apologize and I know I'm getting on your nerves. If there any repercussion for any law enforcement or northeast Arkansas or any particular county if they do not get this under control We continue to leave the state.
Is there any consequences to someone? No, this is a partnership we have. And we're, you know, we're working together to try to feed this. And I'm confident that the leadership in northeast Arkansas has taken action and steps. And I hope that they will continue to do that in the future, we can do better. But it's up to the citizens. This is not something that, you know, I can control everybody's behavior. I don't think anybody wants the governor or the state to control everybody's behavior. Everybody is individually responsible. We're asking everyone to help us as we fight this. With that. Thank you, Josh. And I think we covered everybody today. And so we look forward to seeing you soon. We're always available. Thank you very much.