201006_COVID-19 Press Briefing
7:51PM Oct 6, 2020
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Dr. Jose Romero
Mandy Hrach - KATV
Dr. Ivy Pfeffer - ADE
Allison Wise - 40/29 News
Leslie Peacock - Ark Times
I have a quitman High School mass today that was provided to me. We also have a teacher from equipment here today. Julie Wallace, not she's the CO principal of the equipment, high school and school district. So thank you for being with us. Thank you for joining me today. Let me first start by paying tribute to officer Kevin Collins of the Pine Bluff police department who lost his life yesterday in the line of duty. Kevin Collins was a extraordinary person. He was well loved in his community. He served his community and he's lost his life. And we express sorrow on that, but also tribute and today I've directed the United States and state flag to fly at half mast in honor of officer Kevin Collins. Today, I am joined by Dr. Jose Romero, of the Department of Health Dr. IV, Pfeffer Department of Education. Rachel bunches with us the Arkansas Health Care Association. And then of course, as I mentioned, Julie Wallace is here from co principal of the equipment School District. And so we've got a lot to cover today. And let me first remark that with the President and First Lady of the United States testing positive and the president being hospitalized. What I see across Arkansas is a new level of seriousness and carefulness about COVID, there is more consistent masking, there's more consistent following of guidelines. And we should all be reminded of the seriousness of COVID. And as we enter flu season, we have to remember that there is potential of flu, and there is the potential for COVID. We have viruses running around in the nation. And so because of flu season, because of the risk of COVID. We don't want Double Trouble this winter. And so we encourage everybody to get the flu shot, and to continue to continue to be careful about COVID. And I think we have every reason to do that. We have a challenge before us. And we need to get things done in life, school education work. But never forget the virus that continues to be part of this emergency and the reason for it. I wanted to share a couple letters today the first letter
leads me to an announcement that will be we are making and this letter is to honorable Hutchinson, it's handwritten. When will I see my children?
You have the answer, you will make the decision. It has been many months since I've been with them. I have not hugged, kissed and love them for many months, it will be a hard decision for you to make the people in the nursing homes will be in your thoughts to think what it would be if you were a parent there in this facility, yours truly, this is written from a nursing home residents. And it's simply one of many that I've received, both from the residents, but also those that are family members that have not been able to visit their family and a long term care facility. And I want to applaud again, Rachel, bunch of the Arkansas Health Care Association for her leadership and working very hard with the Department of Health to see if we can adjust our protocols so that we can have more access to visitation of family members. And so today, I'm announcing that we have revised the guidelines. And these guidelines will make it easier to have a visit under certain circumstances in a long term care facility. I encourage everyone to read those guidelines that will be actually a directive. That is a directive update that will be on the website today. And but in so this is just the highlights of it. But it's important for you to look at it because there's a lot of detail there. First of all, there will be minimum minimum of visitation at long term care facilities. And they may occur in the following situations if approved by the residents health care provider. First of all, if there's a need for medical treatment, or if there's a compassionate care situations, which could be mental depression, it could be the need to see a loved one. If they're not eating right, they have disorders and it's because of the lack of Have that human touch that will justify that visitation long term care facility were recognized because of the length of time as a medical need. And then secondly, there will be expanded visitation can occur in the facilities if they meet certain requirements. And as you know, CDC guidelines is 28 days of no positive cases in the nursing home. This will reduce that to 14 days of no positive cases. They meet all staffing requirements, they have adequate PP, they screen their visitors, employees and contractors, and that they will restrict access to those that cannot be properly screen. This is a very, very important step that is necessary. That is the right thing to do. And we are very concerned about continued good health in our long term care facilities. And we're going to continue to emphasize quality care, but the quality screening and the protections to reduce the cases in the nursing homes, but we have to have some of that visitation under medically necessary circumstances and when there's been no positivity for 14 days. This should enhance the visitation opportunities. It doesn't make it perfect. It's still a protected environment. But read those guidelines. And I think this is a good step forward. I applaud Dr. Romero and his team as well as the Healthcare Association. I said that I had two notes, this is a little bit lighter. And this is a note that was given to me from a young person. And he says dear governor, Asa Hutchinson
identifies the person speaking here, would you please let Halloween this year? Me and my sisters are really looking forward to this. The people who are handing out Cannady candy can wear a face mask and gloves and so will we, and it would be a great birthday present because my birthday is around Halloween. If we can go to school, then I think we should certainly be able to trick or treat, please yours truly Amanda Elizabeth Carter Parkway Elementary School in Bryan, Arkansas. And so, Amanda, we want Halloween to happen this year. We know kids are planning on it with appropriate health care guidance and doing the right thing as you suggested. And so this will be a guidance that's put out. And I encourage everyone to read that but wear a cloth mask instead of simply a costume mask alone or even on top of your cloth face covering. And so should have a special cloth mask that you can decorate if you wish but do it the right way. limit the number of houses children visit only eat factory wrap candy, that's a better chance of being healthy. That's been wiped with the sanitary why engage in low risk activities. They include carving, decorating pumpkins, decorating your house and having a virtual costume contest. There are identified in the guidance, moderate and higher risk activities. And so you can see what we consider higher risk that you need to be much more careful about, look at the low risk activities and see if that fits in with your plans. But this guidance is offered today. We hope that it's helpful for all the parents, the communities, as well as the young people. We don't want to make Halloween. Like we had our last holiday which we saw a spike in cases that's just not helpful. So everybody, be careful. Let's go to the case report. And in our cases, we had an additional 532 confirmed covid cases. That brings the total to 84,203. We have five additional hospitalizations. That brings us to 529 which is a new high in our hospitalizations because of covid in Arkansas. Dr. Romero likely will mention this again, but we do have adequate hospital space. There is sufficient room for the cases we're not in a most difficult circumstance, but we want to see those numbers go down over time. We've had regretfully 22 additional deaths that brings us to 1321 are Kansans that have died because of COVID. And again, Dr. Merrill will make some comments about that. Our testing was strong with 6157 PCR tests. We have a 7.7 cumulative positivity rate. And that continues to be part of the good news of declining positivity, right? Our antigen testing was 1059 with 133, positive 12.6% positivity, right, let's go to the graphs. And this is helpful because we get to see it in a trend fashion, rather than just raw numbers. And you will be able to see later on that our testing has not been as high as it could have been. But our cases have been down for the last three or four days. Let's go to the next one, you just see the trend. And you could see the same thing the trend down. Little uptick because of today's smaller increase, the number of active cases go down. Good news, we got right up to post the top, we started going back down and active cases. The next one is a hospitalized. As you can see, it's up, it's too high, we hope that that will be reduced. This is the number of new cases in Arkansas by case type, which the Orange is the New confirmed cases that PCR and the other is the probable cases or the
antigen test. And so you can see the increased number of antigen test in the last 24 hours, which we had 183 antigen positives cases, with 532 PCR confirmed cases, you can see the trend line on both the cases as well as how that breaks down. And then you see the date of result, test result by testing facility tight. And of course, that is a concern when you saw such a volume of commercial test. And it's down a little bit now. But overall, our testing is very, very robust and strong. Our department of health continues to do a consistent level of testing. And then the growth rate of new cases in Arkansas. This is by public health region. And you can see that the region that is has the highest growth of cases is the Northeast region. And so northeast, we need you to focus. And we need you to understand as you do I know the public health risks because of COVID. But that's a 6.9% growth rate. Over the last week that you see the Northwest is down. Central is the second highest. Let's go the next one. And this is by age group, which we like to show every week to show the trend lines the sixth. I think last week, if I remember right, it was very similar this that the growth rate was in the 65 plus. And so we've slowed the growth rate down in the college area. And that's reflective of the fact that our active cases in colleges has declined over the last week, which we're very pleased with. Next. And this is the pattern for the five different public health regions, which shows the trend lines, all of them are lower than they were last week. And that's good news for us, even though it shows that we have a significant amount of work remaining to do. And this is the number of new cases again by case type, which is just the antigen test and the PCR test. With that, let me ask Dr. Romero to come and to make his comments. And then I'll ask Dr. Pfeffer to come to talk about an initiative, followed by our guest, Julie Wallace that I'll recognize here momentarily.
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon. So I will add a little more detail to the governor's report of the cases. So with regard to the number of deaths that were reported, one case was delayed in reporting and that was due to reclassification of the individual we have no focal clusters with regard to nursing homes, correctional facilities or states of the number that were reported today for were in nursing home individuals. Our number of PCR tests for this month is quite strong at 45,712 There are also the antigen testing also as strong at 4196. With regard to cases in counties, as you know, we report those counties which have over 20 cases in a day. And the we have six at this time. Leading is Washington County at 57. Pulaski County at 43, a tie in third place for Benton and Faulkner 27 cases. Sebastian 25. And lastly, Craighead. With regard to the total number of probable cases in the state Today we are at 3841. Let me say a few words from the the White House report which will be released this afternoon. The White House cites that we are showing a quote impressive input in quote, declines in key areas in Arkansas, which shows that we are making progress. But those those those advances are tenuous and can be fragile. And so we need to keep in mind that the mask mandates, social distancing, and washing our hands is extremely important. We know that this is a highly contagious virus, that we have a very good way very good ways of preventing transmission. And that is with the use of cloth mask, again, physical distancing. And with that, I'll end my comments and turn it back over to the governor. Thank you.
Thank you, Governor. I continue to be proud of and grateful for the educators that are working hard every day, and helping to make decisions that take into account safety and care for students, but also balancing that with student's academic and social emotional well being. And as of this morning, we had 22 instances where and districts are currently in some sort of pivot to online learning for either classrooms, grade levels, or schools. The encouraging news, though, is that last week's count of new modifications was down to 13, which is down from 26, the week before. And this week, so far, we have six new active modifications, we're hoping that that number stays low, and hoping that it's a sign that as districts continue to engage in onsite instruction, they're learning and finding ways to help mitigate exposure and mitigate risk so that they can keep more students on site for more of the time. We know that districts are also engaging, they're ready for learning committees, and reconsidering some of their school day operations and looking for ways to help find more time for educators to engage also with their virtual learners. Right now, we have about 25% of our students who are virtual learners. And we know that in many cases, that takes on a whole new approach to teaching and requires a lot of shifts in instruction. So we want to make sure that districts have the proper supports to help with students who might become disengaged or who might be struggling with this new type of learning. And so to do this, we're launching a new initiative called engage Arkansas. This initiative will provide sport to benefit districts by reducing the workload on identifying, locating and re engaging students and allowing districts instead to focus on providing necessary educational supports to students both in person and learning virtually. This partnership includes our state's education renewal zones. We have six of those housed in universities throughout the state. And the initiative also includes the Arkansas Department of Human Services, and it together these partners will help to provide wraparound support to students and families. The partners will determine how the pandemic has affected student enrollment, and create regional strategies to help find know show students identify at risk students and also identify students who are disengaged. Beginning immediately this partnership which also includes graduation Alliance, will provide districts with access to outreach counselors who will utilize a multiple strategies designed to reach students and families. Students will also have access to academic coaches. telehealth services. Longer term, this initiative initiative will be supported. So that each ERC will develop a plan that they will use to with local data to provide support for students long term. So graduation alliance will be providing technical assistance and support to help build that capacity at each of the education renewal zones. We will be hosting webinars this week, reaching out to districts and encouraging them to get involved. We're really excited for this opportunity because we know that this is something that's going to benefit all students in all of our districts and we will be keeping everyone updated on the progress as we see it. Thank you.
Thank you, Dr. Pfeffer. And with that, Julie, won't you come I enjoyed our visit at about quipment School District, please share what you've had to tell me.
Thank you, Governor Hutchinson for having me. Um, I am the CO principal equipment school district that started with Michael stacks there. And to say that we've began school differently this year is an understatement. We have developed a ready for learning plan that has a lot of changes in it as far as our bell schedule, changes in the classroom to accommodate social distancing mask. We had a virtual open house this year, so many different things. in that aspect. We also did a staggered start to our school day. Half of our students came on Monday, the other half came on Tuesday, that allowed for our students to feel more comfortable and coming into the school. And on our first day of school with fifth graders, there was a fifth grader that was crying. And I went up to him because I thought he was upset about returning to school. And he said, I'm just so happy to finally be back at school. And I'm so happy to be here. So it was happy tears. And so those kind of stories are what keeps us going. And our staff has been very committed to onsite instruction. In fact, 100% of our staff wanted to come back to school. And we see the evidence of their commitment every day. As you walk down the hallways and windows are in their classrooms. We've had fewer staff absences than ever before, to date. And then we've spent six weeks teaching students how to use a Chromebook in case they need to pivot to online instruction at home. We've also committed to spending time addressing the whole child providing emotional support. We have every every person on our campus, it doesn't matter if it's a teacher and administrator, a custodian. They're all checking in on our kids and ensuring that their emotional needs are met. And we are thankful that the USDA is providing free meals for all of our students to provide for their physical needs. We had a student return from virtual learning to onsite instruction yesterday. And I asked that student I said, well, what's been the best part of your day, and he said the school lunch. He said I've missed a good school lunch. And we are providing our students meeting their academic needs using the playbook that many of our staff members were helped developed. And then we're also thankful that Governor Hutchinson has allowed for normal activities to resume on campus so that our students social needs are being met as well. We currently have about 9% of our students who have chosen virtual, and then we've had very few that have had to quarantine. But in those cases, the hotspots that were provided by the state have been very helpful for those families without internet access. And I just wanted to share a quick card. Yesterday, I had walked in from a meeting and I had about 20 cards on my desk. And this one kind of stuck out to me. But she said Miss Wallace, I'm so happy that you let us go to school. School is my happy place. And I'm thankful to be here. Thank you for being the principal of our school. Love. I love coming to school, and I hope you liked this note. So I just wanted to share the positive side of being on set. Thank you.
Thank you, Julie. And thanks to all the teachers that are doing such a great job and are challenging the environment with that we'll take any questions.
The status of ICU beds and the state our citizens in the state in danger of not getting access to one if they need it at this time.
Now we have more than adequate number of ICU beds. If you look at the numbers and Dr. Romero might have some specific numbers there but Last week, the utilization of ICU beds by COVID patients had been going down. And so there's not any concern there in terms of the adequate adequacy of the ICU beds. Dr. Merrill, do you have any specific numbers?
nursing home visitation role? What was it that changed
that allowed you to revise? And
in particular that 28 day thing is that, have you had to?
Well, Rachel, bunch to comment on that, because she's been dealing with this with for some period of time, but we have CDC guidance of 28 days, and you have CMS guidance of saying you got to put visitation back in in place. And so this is a directly from CMS that we needed to take action at the state level to have access by family members. Would you go ahead, Rachel?
Thank you. Yes, the memo that came out from CMS, on the end of September, identified visitation, indoor visitation to happen at 14 days and no cases. Above that it talks about how states and facilities should allow outdoor visitation technology, other options, even within that. So we've tried to look at all those together and take input from the health department and from DHS to try to find the right balance there to meet quality of life and patient safety. And we're very hopeful that with all of the increased testing that we've been doing, most facilities now have an antigen machine, they're on site, many of them have received Abbott kits from the federal government. And then of course, working with the health department and reference labs, that that will help us to identify cases early, and we'll be able to see more visits done in a safe manner.
So what is the CDC guidance on trick or treating? Do they do they have a guidance on door to door?
I'm not aware of any CDC guidance. Are you Dr. Romero?
The guidance which I'm aware of and I'm not sure that comes from the CDC is that multiple states have issued these tiered types of activities that can be engaged in that are very similar to ours, so ours fall within those guidelines. Yes,
Governor, we've had reports up to educators in the state who have now died from complications due to the virus and that's a superintendent and Atkins and a teacher and Harrison, I was wondering if you could comment on that. And just tell me if you're still comfortable allowing individual school districts to make their own decisions on whether they pivot to
virtual or not.
It's been a very good partnership with the local school districts. It's been a good team effort as to how to respond when there is a policy case in the school. I expect that partnership to continue. In terms of the
superintendent in Atkins and the teacher in Harrisburg, and I'll add that there was a bus driver, I believe it was in Russellville, and these deaths are extraordinarily tragic. They
just like a nursing home resident or it's it's, it's an arkansan that we lose, but we also losing their dedication and their passion for teaching. And so those are always heavy on my heart. Whenever we have a teacher or educator that becomes positive. It's hard to trace as to where this came about. But we know that it's possible that could happen in a school environment. That's, but I've been very pleased that they've been responding in a serious fashion. And we hope that that will be the last one that we lose.
you started this conference, talking about President Trump and saying a change in people's attitudes because he and the First Lady tested positive. Today he tweeted that COVID is not something to fear or worry about. So is that going to negate whatever positives easily could have come from the situation? No,
I don't believe so at all that Clearly the fact that he goes to Walter Reed Hospital, he, the fact that he is taking treatment for this, that is the reminder of the seriousness of it the fact that you had a White House event in which you had more than 10 people that tested positive. Those are all reminders that people see very visibly on on TV and various media, that we've got to understand very deeply that that is serious. And so people do, I think that is reflected in their actions. And
that's what I commented on. Is there any question that we have remotely? Yes.
And I was wondering, at the beginning of the pandemic, when no one knew how long it would go, you were very confident in the size of the unemployment Trust Fund. Recently, more than 100 million dollars had to go into keep taxes from going up on unemployment, can you? I'm sure you've done some projections about that. Can you kind of give us an update on where you see that trust fund going forward?
Thank you, Neil. And that was a necessary step. But that puts our fund in a position that unless the unemployment numbers just skyrocket, again, I would expect that unemployment Trust Fund to be stabilized and hopefully there will not be a necessity to raise employer taxes down the road. That is the objective of it. And I in talking to other governors, they're in much more serious situation. Their unemployment numbers are higher. They did not have a healthy of a unemployment Trust Fund. So I think we're in good position in Arkansas now and that,
you know, you can't predict the future, but I believe we are in good position now. Next question.
Hey, Governor, this is Josh white, Kitt and jonesborough, Craighead County Republican committee just lost their leader, Mr. Stephen farmer who died of COVID. If you look at the crickey, County Republican Party's Facebook page, there is a lot of meetings, no social distancing, no masks, and several of the representatives and members of that have also posted meetings and everything talking about how the virus is 99.6% survivable, now that they have lost their leader in that. Do you think the GOP here in Arkansas is really taking this seriously?
As I said, I believe there's a growing number of people in Arkansas and across the nation that take it very seriously. In fact, the vast majority do. There's always a minority that believes in some wild conspiracy theory that don't follow the science and that, you know, are resisting the need to follow public health guidance. But as I said, I believe that is a diminishing minority. And there's more and more people that are taking it seriously. And as I pointed out of the numbers today, northeast Arkansas has had the highest growth rating cases in the last week. And so hopefully, that will help draw the attention, the need to make sure we be careful to protect each other. Next question.
Follow up. You. It is a small minority, but it is a small minority in the republican party and as you are a republican governor, anything to address your party down here, up here in northeast Arkansas?
Well, whether you're republican democrat or tea party, follow the public health guidelines. That's my message. You know, there's, you've got various levels of thinking on this within a broad diverse party. I'm the leader of the party. And I'm articulating please follow the public health guidelines. setting that example. You're always going to have a minority out there. But I think that is a diminishing minority. Next question. Next person.
Governor, this is a Andrew with AP. Want to ask you about the White House report. The Dr. Romero talks some about it. And he pointed out that the report notes that any games that are consoles made or fragile at this point still has a set of recommendations. And it talks about in high traffic transmission areas limited That limiting bar hours want to see an Arkansas still in the red zone for new cases? Want to see which of those recommendations are you? Are you taking a look at and do you think needs to be
done to make make any gains Arkansas is made
less graduate work in Arkansas out of the red zone.
The report I just received before coming in here, it clearly indicated that we have been making progress in Arkansas. In the positivity rate is declining. We're still in the yellow zone, they're in the number of cases per 100,000 people we are in red. That's what we aim to continue to work on. And I have confidence that when positivity rate goes down, eventually cases go down. new cases go down as well. But we're not there yet. So it just shows we have more work to do. Your fundamental question is, is there a place we might put more restrictions, that's always open, but we're not looking at putting more restrictions on businesses, we're looking at ways that businesses can survive, but that we can be healthy, and we can follow the public health guidance. And that is about discipline. It's about individual responsibility. It's about business owners. And by and large, they're doing that.
I Gov. This is Mercedes McKay with channel 11. And the first results from the CDC nationwide antibody studies are now in. And basically what it shows is that one in 25, Arkansans do have antibodies, and the other 24 could still get covid. So kind of going off the last question that was asked about the state of this pandemic in Arkansas, after looking at these results, where do you think we are in this in the state?
I will be anxious to see that and how those numbers compare with other states. That actually surprises me that it's that few in some ways that has antibodies, but I'll take a more careful look at that. But in terms of where we are right now, we have been successful in keeping the case numbers at a level that does not overwhelm our hospitals. We're keeping the cases down through better behavior and social distancing. It's still too high. But you know, it hasn't. And I think that reflects the fact that it is not while we have community spread. It's not
as deep as is what the numbers could have reflected. Dr. Merrill, please. Would you comment on that?
Thank you for bringing that to our attention. Yes. The CDC does have these report out. It will be an ongoing report that's issued monthly, I believe, as the new numbers come in. And so nationwide serological study. I think the take home message from the report is that there is there are still a significant number of our Kansans that have not been infected. I want to clarify what I think I heard was his mis statement from you. And that is that these antibodies do not indicate that an individual is protected. There is no definite proof that having these antibodies in this test is protective in any way. We don't know how long the Tetley antibodies are going to last and at what level the individuals have. This is simply a zero epidemiologic test, a test that allows us to determine who's been infected, but does not tell us anymore. Thank you. And
Governor answer reflects the reason we have a very nationally recognized epidemiologist on our team. The next question,
Governor Mike McNeil
magnotta reporter.com hurricane delta is now a category four storm and it appears to be heading to the Louisiana coast. This may mean that Southern Arkansas can expect a rather large number of evacuees. How well do you think the emergency services in Arkansas are prepared to receive trackways while also trying to contain the spread of the virus?
I think we're very well prepared because this is about the third hurricane that's coming up from the Gulf Coast that we've been concerned about. And we've have evacuation plans in place in terms of receiving evacuees, if necessary. Louisiana has really gotten a lot more capacity than they had during Katrina for handling Those that are displaced. But AJ, Gary, our Director of emergency management, is on top of that. They're prepared. They have contingency plans in place. As that gets closer if we need to implement it, we will.
In it that's consistent with COVID guidelines as well. Obviously, in this day and time, that's what we have to be
mindful of. And we are. Yes, ma'am.
Oh, hi, Governor. This is Suzanne, I was just wondering why, what the thinking is behind the high rate of hospitalizations.
We've talked about that a lot. And we're expecting that number to go down, just in terms of we've seen, since we've had a reduction in new cases over the last week, to a certain extent. But I'll ask Dr. Romero, do you want to comment on that hospitalization.
So we consider these hospitalizations to be a delayed a delayed indicator of the infection. So it takes individuals a certain amount of time to become symptomatic. And then once symptomatic, they need to progress through their illness. And some of those individuals will be fine originally, and will eventually wind up in the hospital. If we have a large number of individuals infected that develop disease, a significantly more number of individuals can wind up in the hospital. So what we're seeing we believe, are the after effects of the large number of cases we saw around the Labor Day weekend. And this is what the governor was referring to that for Halloween, for Thanksgiving. And for Christmas and New Year's, we can see significant waves of increased disease afterwards, that may lead to increased numbers of hospitalizations. And what I didn't mention today is that we we are increasing the number of individuals that are requiring ventilation. So it's not just hospitalization intensive care beds, but also ventilatory support that we're concerned with if this continues, and we I don't think it will continue. I think we'll see a decrease as this number is this wave, if you will, passes.
Any other question?
governor, this is Allison with 4020. And you wrote the chicken feeling and politicking event. Several other lawmakers will present. As we've seen with the White House administration, there's been significant spread due to some large gatherings that have happened. Do you have any hesitations about participating in some of those events as we lead up to the election?
I'm very cautious. I do not accept an invitation to go to an event unless they have the requirements in for the for meeting the public health requirements. And so that is one of the things that we look at in terms of that event. It was outside. It was spaced out it was limited number of people there were screening. And there. We had a mask. I had a mask on until I spoke. So those are important ingredients for me. I felt like I felt safe there. And and I wouldn't I wouldn't go if I didn't.
Last question right here. All right. So I think we're good with that. I thank you for your attention today. And we'll look forward to another report next week. Have a Have a good day.