7:57PM Sep 9, 2020
Andy Davis - ADG
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Dr. Jose Romero
Alex Burch - KATV
Emma Claybrook - 40/29
Troy Wells - Baptist Health
Gina Windle - ADE
Thank you for joining me today for today's daily COVID-19 update. I'm joined by a whole host of luminaries to make some comments today we have of course, Dr. Jose Romero, the Department of Health. We also are joined today by Gina Windle of the Chief of Staff of the Department of Education. And then Troy wells, CEO of Baptist Health System. important part of our announcement today. And then Steuart Walton, who just finished a meeting with our economic recovery task force will also give a brief report on the work of that task force which we greatly appreciate. If you recall six months ago, when this pandemic started, that the Department of Health had one testing machine that could do 20 tests per day. That's all I could do. Since then, we've built the capacity where now we can do over 3000 tests in a day in our public health laboratory. This is incredible growth in capacity. And what I've said probably a month ago when we started having serious issues with our commercial labs and their production, and their reliability on the test, that we needed to control our own destiny, and that for that reason, we have invested in antigen testing equipment, but we've also expanded our capacity and partnerships in terms of our own PCR testing within our Department of Health. And so today as part of controlling our own destiny, I'm pleased to announce the Department of Health's partnership with Baptist Health in order to increase our testing capacity by 20%. And this, again, will add to our ability to make sure we can do adequate testing here in the state of Arkansas. The Department of Health under this partnership will refer 50% of the tests that come in over to Baptist Health for their analysis, and Baptist Health will provide the personnel to operate the Thermo Fisher machine in which the Department of Health is providing to Baptist. Baptist Health will be operating this machine 24 hours per day, seven days a week, which is a very significant commitment and again, an expansion of our testing capacity here in Arkansas. So thank you Baptist Health and Troy Wells, who will be making comments on that a little bit later.
Let's go to our cases. The last 24 hours we've seen an additional 385 in positive PCR test. That brings us to 66,406. In terms of hospitalizations, we've had two additional Arkansans hospitalized. That brings us to 411. And we've had 11 additional deaths, that brings our total to 928. In terms of testing, we've tested 5208 tests, which is a good strong Testing Day with our PCR tests over the last 24 hours. In terms of our antigen tests, we've tested 699. That gives us 114 positive. That gives us a positivity rate of 15.4% for our antigen test. Now, for those sharp observers, you'll say well, if we're considering the antigen test positives as real cases, then they ought to be added into the total. But We'll continue to report those according to CDC guidelines separately, but it is informative to see them combined and so if you add the 385 positive cases under the PCR test with the 114 of the antigen test that really gives us 499 positive cases within the last 24 hours. I know that is an extra step to go through to get tha t total. But that allows us to report separately to the CDC, but also to be transparent with the people of Arkansas. Let's go to our graphs.
Here you can see that we're obviously way down from our last Friday's high number. In fact, we've been down consistently since then, at that less than 400 level for our PCR test. In the next you'll see the seven day rolling average. That again, has this away from the peak and we're flat right now. Hopefully we'll continue or go down and with the numbers that we see today. Hopefully that will be the case to go down. The number of hospitalized is remaining really steady. And some days it goes down. But we're way below where we were at our peak, which shows we have good hospital capacity. And then the number of active cases is down. That'll go up and down, but we're way below where we have been at the peak again. And then the seven day rolling average of positivity, and again, I sort of disregard the last couple of columns because they'll be backfield in the next in the coming days. But you can see we're well below the 10% level, and our positivity rate really is looking better, but on the margins, and so we've still got more work to do there. In terms of our antigen test, by date of result, it just shows that over the month Now then 4000 antigen test. And again, we just did 699 over the last 24 hours. And then this is the positive. I'm sorry, this is the PCR test by type of facility. And this is important, because you can see, the Department of Health has a higher capacity I said 3000 and has an easy capacity for we don't do that every day because the demand is not always there. A little bit unpredictable as to how the demand comes in, but our capacity is there. And then the Radek course is the commercial labs. And we've seen their capacity. You know, well over 6000 on Sundays in the past, and most recently, their capacity or their results, not necessarily their capacity, but what we're getting out of the commercial ABS has been reduced and we don't want to be simply relied upon that up and down. And that wide again, this partnership with a Baptist Health will be very helpful. And just to show cases per 100,000 everybody looks at. And obviously, whenever you look at the southern states, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas, that we're going through an increase in cases, but our per 100,000 cases in Arkansas ranks right in the middle of behind those that I just mentioned. Some are, you know, and this will go up and down, but shows right in the middle of those states that are analyzed. I believe that concludes those for now. And with that, let me ask Dr. Romero, for his comments, and then I'll ask Troy wells to make a comment on this partnership. And then I'll introduce Stuart Walt.
Thank you, Governor. So I will add a little bit more to the data. As mentioned, we had an increase of two individuals that were hospitalized for 411. We also had a decrease of two individuals requiring a ventilator. So we're down to 82, which gives us a significant reserve for ventilators. Our total deaths as mentioned were 928. That's a result of an increase of 12 deaths in the state. seven of those deaths occurred in nursing homes, with two small clusters, one occurring in BB and the other in Eldorado recovered cases, we've added 660 to the rolls. We are now at 59,920 individuals with regard to the top five counties or top counties, over 20 cases, we only I have five today. First is Washington County with 42, followed by Craig head at 21. Then Pulaski at 31, Benton at 24 and Jefferson at 23. So let me add my comments to those of the governor with regard to testing. I think our joint partnership with Baptist will expand our capacity significantly, I want to extol the efforts of the public health laboratory and state that from September 2 to September 8, the lab performed over 19,000 tests, and that would rank the lab the public health laboratory in the range of a commercial laboratory performing testing. So this extra extra capacity provided by Baptist will further increases. And then lastly, I want to let everyone know that our new mandates for restaurants have have been placed on our dashboard. This increases the options available to families and includes a self serve restaurant venues. And that can be read at our website. So I'll turn it back over to the governor.
Thank you, Governor Hutchinson, for having me here today for this this really exciting announcement. I think we all recognize how important partnerships are. And in healthcare, especially in during times of pandemic, especially, I think we've seen the state of Arkansas and health care provider community work in partnership throughout the last six months or so. And I think today is just another great example of how we can use our collective resources to better serve the state of Arkansas. So I'm excited to be here and be a part of this. You know, this started several weeks back this discussion of how we can partner together to help provide more testing we've reached the agreement to do So as you've heard today, the states providing the equipment, a Baptist Health is providing the technical, professional resources to run that equipment 20 477 days a week. This is commercially rated lab equipment, which means it can really run a large number of tests. This is beneficial for Baptist Health, because today and over the last several months, we sent have sent anywhere from 400 to 1000 tests out of state to a reference lab and that turnaround time as we've talked about in here many times before has been rather slow at times. So it does benefit Baptist Health. But first and foremost, it will benefit the state of Arkansas in the department health commercial lab. So each day they'll be the first block of tests will be dedicated to the Department of Health. And then after that block of test is used up Baptist Health can utilize that machine to run it's test that we normally like I said would be sending out of state. So this this piece of equipment runs over 1000 times. Yesterday. So this really will add some needed capacity to our in state testing. The reagents for this machine there read it more readily available due to the partnership with the state of Arkansas. So it really has been beneficial for everyone. This equipment is on order. And we expect it to be here by October 1 and be operational. So we're really excited about this. I want to thank the governor once again and the Department of Health, Dr. Romero and your team there who's worked so hard to make this happen, as well as the team at Baptist sales. So thank you. And, Governor, back to you.
Thank you, Troy. That's really great news for us. And as everyone knows, the economic recovery Task Force has been meeting regularly, both in full committee and in their subcommittees. And the recommendations have been very instrumental in guiding our recovery, but we're not completed yet. We still have much more to do in terms of our economic recovery. Stuart Walton has led that effort and I want to invite him to come and give some comments about their preliminary report.
Good afternoon, and thank you, Governor. We had a good meeting this morning with economic recovery Task Force had about 20 people I think in the in person in the flesh, socially distanced and all messed up. And in this meeting, we accomplished a couple things. One, we had a great update from Mervin Jebaraj, the he's an economist at the University of Arkansas, and he gave us some really good information on the state of the Arkansas economy. And I just wanted to kind of pull out a couple of extracts from Mervyn's analysis and work that I thought might be interesting. You know, to the biggest drivers for Arkansas is economic activity. In the last six months, and it's very clear when you start clicking into the data are one just the government stimulus, the activity from the federal government, whether it's the PPP loans, the unemployment, boost and benefits and the stimulus checks. There's just no question that's had a pretty material impact in Arkansas's economy. And then the other bit that shows up pretty consistently in the data is the elevated case numbers. And when case numbers are rising fast, you see a corresponding slowdown in certain areas of the economy. And so it just drives home the point that these crises are inextricably really linked the you know, the health crisis, the economic crisis, and that to solve one we have to solve the other. A couple other data points from Mervyn's report. One is you know, small businesses are taking it on the chin and they're faring worse than then larger businesses with more resources. And you know, we just see, in particular, the leisure and hospitality segments, as well as in store retail in the small business arena as being those particularly hardest hit. If you look at the hospitality and leisure numbers, we've got, you know, just some pretty challenging conditions out there and you hear it from restaurant owners. You hear it from like, folks, event centers like the Walton Art Center, over 70% of Walton Art Center patrons would be uncomfortable returning to a live performance today. restaurants, they're trailing last year's revenue at about 35% below where they were last year and that's just for the month of August. So it doesn't take too long to start reflecting on these numbers thinking hey, as good as the state of Arkansas is doing on a relative basis. We still have a long way to go. I want to talk briefly about, you know, just the impact that some of these small businesses closing would have on the state because as a patron of one of these restaurants, it would be disappointing to see it close. But as the proprietor of one of these restaurants or as an employee of one of these restaurants that might close, it would be life changing. And, again, it drives home the point that we've got to solve this health crisis to move forward in our economic crisis and to overcome and move out of the situation that we're in making good progress, but a lot of work to go. Now the taskforce has produced a progress report, it's in draft form, and we're going to get it to the governor. We hope tomorrow we're getting final comments from the rest of the task force members today and tomorrow. got just a summary here of the various headings within the report. And this report will be posted on Arkansas ready.com. Later this week, when it's presented to the governor. final point I want to make is just how much the taskforce unanimously supports the work of the Department of Health and the issuance of their guidelines. They are on the right track. And as a state, I know it's getting a little bit fatiguing to continue to operate in a way that feels so uncomfortable sometimes, but we just have to overcome that we have to continue to put our confidence in the Department of Health, their leadership, and and all work together to to continue to make progress and move through this. Thank you, Governor.
Thank you, Steuart, and I look forward to the report that will be released later this week. With that, we're happy to take any Questions.
So as far as the the partnership of Baptists does that mean? I mean, since only a portion of that equipment use is going to be for the health department's does that indicate they're just not the demand or to have the apartment machine, you should fill with capacity.
So, I mean, this, the Department of Health did not have the space for another machine. And so we had purchased this machine and hoping to have a partner for it. And so it's not a reflection of lack of demand and utilization fully of the Department of Health equipment is we needed a partner for space purposes as well as personnel. And so that's what Baptist Health is providing. And so that's the expansion of the capacity that we have in 10. You raise a good point, though, that while we might have, you know, a capacity of 3600 test a day, through our department health lab and Mab, this new capacity, if the demand is not there, we're not going to be showing that every day doesn't mean we're going to have 3600 tests every 24 hours. It means that's the capacity there. And of course, we have to the domain will will fluctuate some is just as you've seen over the last week.
You know, we develop that as every month and part of our testing plan. And absolutely whenever we see a breakout somewhere or a great need, we channel those resources there. And with the availability of our public health team across the state, it's easy to It's easier to get that outreach, get those tasks, bring them back here for division between a Baptist Health and department Hill for their work. Did you have anything else to add on that? Yeah.
So part of the reason why we have another platform is because of the issue of supply and demand. So Dr. Smith and the governor spoke about this issue. And the way to overcome that issue of supply and demand is that if, for example, there's not enough supply those reagents for our perkinelmer system, we had a backup system of the Thermo Fisher Fisher and that's why we went to another platform. Our ability to partner with Baptist Health allows us to have the machine up and running at all times. So there's not a lag time in getting everything up and running. And it's a it's if you will a pop off valve for when we have extra specimens we have in the past had to to contract with other commercial laboratories to handle the large number of specimens that were coming through our laboratory. So now more of these will be able to stay in state, we'll be able to address these very quickly. And we are having partnerships now with the nursing homes in order to do a lot of their testing that has been recently mandated. So our volume will go up in the next few weeks.
Troy, do you have anything else to all right.
In terms of increasing testing, are there any plans for just kind of like regular surveillance, testing at either nursing homes or universities or K through 12? places like that?
Dr. Romero, do you want to handle that or Stephanie, if you have anything dad
so the nursing home Association has has mandated routine testing in nursing homes. So that will be going on and again, that is one of the reasons why we need the incu crease capacity because we're going to be doing that, a good chunk of that. So that that repeat testing has been in place has been put in place and we'll go forward. We have no mandates at this time and have no plans to be doing regular testing at this moment, but this is certainly a consideration.
Of course, the in the school setting, that's one of the reasons our antigen test equipment will be in our local public health offices so that we can support the need of our K through 12 schools. Is there any question remotely? Yeah. Governor, this is a Andrew with AP the the White House's Coronavirus Task Force. The latest report has Arkansas at six in the country for new cases. 13 for test positivity. One asked me a couple questions on that report. I guess first of all, I just want to see What if the latest numbers? How much of a concern are they for you at this point? And secondly, wanted to see if there are any of the recommendations that you're taking a look at. And that's not just the closing bars. I know, you've talked about that before, but also recommendations that they've made dealing with college campuses, you know, expanding testing capacity at campuses, and I think even surveillance of wastewater, you know, are any of those ideas, things that you're considering? And the answer is yes. And we take it very seriously in terms of their analysis, but also their recommendations. Some we have to reject out of various reasons, others that make sense here, in terms of my level of worry if, if we would have had five successive days of one Thousand tests as or 1000 positives as we had last Friday, then I would be very concerned and we'd probably be looking at additional steps that might need to be taken. Specifically, when it comes to the recommendations on the college campuses. We have expanded our, the testing there, we've sent teams up there to test, particularly where we had a spike in cases. In terms of the wastewater. We Stephanie Williams can comment as needed on that but we've actually implemented a pilot program for testing surveillance testing in our wastewater plant so that is an ongoing initiative that we are working in partnership with HHS I guess. Yeah, with its cares money and the University of Arkansas is working in partnership with us. other question? Yes.
The Arkansas democrats are asking you to ask the Jefferson County Election Commissioner to resign. Have you seen this? And do you have a reaction to it?
I have not seen any details on that yet or any justification for that. Obviously, the county election commissioners are selected at the county level. And so, you know, by and large, we defer to their judgment on those type of issues. If I need to say anything about that. I'll look at that more carefully. Dr. Merrill, did I answer that on the there was anything more on that partnership on the wastewaters? cover that
goals that I've had to modify their operation?
Gina, there's too and Won't you come give that report? The question was, were there any other schools had to modify their operation? So Gina?
Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor. Yes. So far we've had two additional schools that have had to modify their response to onsite instruction. One is going to require about 40 students to quarantine who have been identified as close contact, and the other one had closer to 100 students.
That was peerage middle school had about 40 and then some kindergarten classrooms in the Harrison School District.
And then there was a question I heard remotely.
Yes. Hi, Governor. This is Zuzanna with Ozarks at large. Just wondering if you had any response to the latest headlines about Bob Woodward's book and The president saying that he was downplaying the virus very early on.
Is whose book are you referring to?
Bob Woodward. It's just kind of us that hit headlines about an hour ago. So
yeah, I have no comment on that. But thank you for that.
This is Emma Claybrook, with 4029 News. Are you concerned that the numbers of cases are low because people cannot get tested on Labor Day weekend?
You have to repeat your saying in my concern, because people are not getting or not being tested sufficiently some of these events, is that it?
No, I said, Are you concerned about the number of cases is low because people cannot get tested on Labor Day weekend? Oh,
well. It's a very good question. And if you look at the end, that's what was unique about this last week. Our testing remained high all through the weekend. And so I think it was five and 6000. were some of the testing days, testing numbers. And our our positives remained much lower than Of course, last Friday. And so I was actually encouraged by both the high testing numbers and the lower positivity, right in the in that testing. So I was encouraged by that. I think all through that weekend, we've continued to see fairly robust testing. Did you have any other comment on that? So with that, thank you today and hope you all have a good afternoon. Thank you.