9:08PM Oct 20, 2020
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Dr. Jose Romero
Secretary Johnny Key (ADE)
Andrew DeMillo - AP
Alex Burch - KATV
MItch McCoy - KARK/KLRT
Emma Claybrook - 40/29
Josh White - KAIT
Samantha Boyd - KNWA
Good afternoon to everyone. Thank you for joining me for today's weekly COVID update. This is the 153rd update that I have provided to the people of Arkansas during this pandemic. I don't think anyone anticipated that it would go this long or require this kind of attention. But this is important to continue to communicate with Arkansans about the serious nature of what we're faced. Today, I did want to share a little bit of good news with everyone. And that is that our unemployment rate in Arkansas went from 7.4% down to 7.3% this last month. That is great news for Arkansans. That's a slow downward trend. I hope that that will continue. But we know the challenging economic environment that we're in with some of the businesses that we have still adversely impacted by the pandemic. I am delighted to be joined remotely today by with Secretary Romero and Secretary Johnny Key of the Department of Education. They will make comments a little bit later on. And those of you might notice, we don't have any media in the room. And I wanted to explain that why we're doing this virtually today. Since the pandemic began, we had a short period of time that our office was closed as everybody worked remotely. But for more than six months, we've been doing regular business here in the governor's office as of necessity in order to lead during this pandemic. We have regularly conducted our meetings with social distancing, and mask wearing as needed following the guidelines. In one meeting that I had last Friday in this conference room. There was an individual the meeting that later tested positive. After contact tracing, I was notified early on Monday morning that there were questions about my exposure, even though I had remained over six feet away from the individual tested. As a precaution, I did have a covid test. On Monday morning early, it was an antigen test that was negative. It was followed by a PCR test that was also negative. And that in while the meeting did not rise to the level of CDC quarantine guidance, out of abundance of caution, I will be limiting my meetings in order to make sure that.. make sure that we don't inadvertently expose anyone and for that reason, we're doing this remotely today.
And let me go through the cases. The last 24 hours, we've had 628 new cases as a result of our PCP test, and that is confirmed cases. And then we had 216 probable cases that gives us a total of 840 probable and confirmed cases. In addition, the last 24 hours we've had additional 24 hospitalized that is 637 and we've had an additional 14 deaths that brings us to 1576 deaths as a result of COVID-19. Whenever you look at our cumulative test, we have reached the 100,000 mark in terms of individual Arkansans that have been impacted and contracted COVID-19 and that is a milestone I know that everyone will note as being a remarkable large number. And I did want to note that passing of the 100,000 mark, regrettably today. We have we're down a little bit our active cases have 7159. And we have our testing was PCR test was 5439. And our antigen test was 2429. So you can see the antigen tests kick back up as we start proceeding through the week. They're down on the weekend. The cumulative positivity rate itself 7.6% and the antigen positivity was 14.9%. Not any surprises there, I'll have more to say about that positivity, right? If we can go to the graphs, you can see the first one and the whole purpose of this at least weekly. Now, we can go through and put it in perspective. And there'll be some more informative information. Because this goes back to July 1. You can see the red is the community cases, the lighter colors, the correctional facilities. And then if you go to the next one, you see the seven day rolling average of new confirmed cases, those are the PCR cases in Arkansas. And you can see that we were down a little bit, we uptick here in the seven day rolling average. And then if you go on to the next one, this is one that I think I like to pay attention to because it puts it in week if you go back to the previous one, quickly, you can see the pattern that is developing week by week, we will have toward the end of the week, the high number of cases that have trended over 1000 on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and then they go down over the weekend, Monday and Tuesday. And then they start kicking up well here we got Tuesday, that moved up a little bit higher than it did last Tuesday. But you can see the pattern through the week. And so the next one, it measures it by week, which is a good way to look at it. And you can see week by week, we've almost been flat consistent for the last four weeks, one dip down. But if you average it out, that's that's pretty close. Last week was just a hair over the previous week. But that puts it in perspective. And those four weeks were a little bit lower than what we were about 10 weeks ago, go to the next one. Hospitalizations is a concern to us, you can see that we have 637 hospitalized and talking with our Department of Health and talking with several hospital officials. They describe it as tight. But they have such a good working relationship among them that they can move resources and continue to do their other necessary surgeries. But we're all worried about the winter. And the fact that our if our flu season or other hospitalizations goes up, it's hard to manage all of it together. And so it's not just COVID that is taking hospital space, but it's all the other issues of life that take hospital space as well. And so for that reason, we need to really work hard in our flu season to control that. And hopefully to get the hospitalizations down, even though everyone is prepared and realistic that those hospitalizations vary will go up a little bit more from where they are now. And then if you look on the number of active cases, that is down, which means more people have recovered, then were added to the list last couple of days anyway. And then the seven day rolling average of both confirmed and probable cases in Arkansas, a little bit flat over the last few days. And let's keep going here. This just to remind you of our public health regions, because I want to illustrate a point here in a moment, you can see the Northeast, the five different public health regions. And then if you go to the next one, you will see the rolling average seven day rolling average by public health region. And you can see for the first time that you have in blue, the Northeast region of the state has moved past the Northwest region of the state which is in the orange. And so that is a significant reminder that the largest increase in cases right now that blue line is consistently moving up. And it's the top region of the state right now just a cautionary note that we have to work hard to bring that under control. And then if you look at...
Oh, hold on second place.
The yellow is the central region. It is really held its own moved down a little bit in recent days. The southeast Southwest are the lowest regions of the state. So that's informative everybody depending upon the region that you're in, and then the next one, if we go to it, this breaks down the growth rate of cases by public health regions which illustrates the same point in different way, Northeast region is over week to week grew by 8.3%, followed by Central 5.4 and southwest at 5.2. Again, a reminder we have work to do. Next is the same by age category. And so 65 plus was growing at the 7.5% rate, next age group 5.50 17, and zero 24. If you combine those two, that's 8.7, under age 24, which would actually, if you combine those would be higher than the 65 Plus in terms of growth rates. And then the seven day rolling average of percent positive, we always want to stay under 10%, which we have consistently been below 10%. But it's a concern whenever you see, we were down for weeks actually at a fairly consistent low 6% positivity rate, it is edged up some. And that means that the more people are tested, a higher percent are becoming positive, which just simply means that there's more people in the community that might have contracted it. So we want to work on that positivity rate. The seven day rolling average of percent positive antigen test is higher as you can see more people who want to feel like they need it, they go in they get an antigen test, it's a higher positivity rate. Then we're coming to the end here. This is the by data result. The percent positive PCR test. So this is positivity just by the PCR test, which we described before. And then this is really, again, shows exactly the great work that our Department of Health is doing all of our medical team across the state that is consistently testing those in need. We have tested just at this point in the month on August 19, August 20, excuse me, October 20, 187,000. And these are PCR test alone. If you add the antigen test, it even goes up from there. That's the next slide. That's the antigen test. You can see how well we're doing on those. And so that gives you a picture as to where we are right now. Again, the positivity rate and hospitalizations are the areas that we have to have concern over. And we want to continue to work to reduce that spread. With that. Let me introduce Dr. Romero for his comments. Dr. Romero.
Thank you, Governor. So I will add a little bit of detail to the governor's data position. Let me mention that ventilator uses has gone up slightly to 101 individuals, we like to see that below 100 as possible. With regard to counties with more than or equal to 20 cases, we have seven counties at this time. They are in order of frequency. Pulaski County with 62 cases, Washington County with 39, Benton at 38, Craighead at 32, Crittenden 25, Crawford at 21, and lastly, we have Greene at 20. With regard to the deaths, as mentioned by the governor, there were 14 deaths reported today, which is lower than the average that we've been having recently, which is approximately around 20. Three of these cases were delayed. All three cases that we have, are in nursing home residence, but no clusters were seen. We are not seeing any correctional cases at the moment. And we did have one cluster of infections occurring at a nursing home in Little River County. The continuing numbers of cases that we're seeing indicates that the mask mandate is not being adhered to, as we would like to see it. I want to remember to remind everyone that it's essential that we follow all the recommendations for decreasing transmission, which is the mass coverings, our social distancing of six feet and washing our hands. We need to have at least 50% of the population use the mask and use these guidelines consistently in order to see a decrease in the number of cases that we report each day. So with this, I'll stop and turn it back over to the governor.
Thank you, Dr. Romero, and I'm delighted to have Secretary Key with us today just to give an education update. Secretary Key.
Thank you, Governor, for the week of October 11. through October 17. We saw 20 districts or schools that had some type of on site modification. That was a little higher than the week before. But the good news is that as far as active on site modifications, there are only 16 of those. So currently, that's as of just a few moments ago. That compares to a total of 158 modifications that over the last since school started, have been modified, but then districts have resumed their normal on site instruction without modification. We continue to get feedback from districts worked with them on their changes to instruction, really modifying and looking at how they could better serve the needs of their students, make modifications so that the load on the teachers is not quite what what it was, making shifts to more of the teachers doing on site, rather than teachers doing on site and on virtual students at the same time. So a number of districts are are making those changes, and looking at their ready for learning plans if we encouraged districts to stay engaged with their ready for learning committees, to get that local feedback and make adjustments and working with us in the health department to do so.
Thank you, Johnny. And before I turn over questions, I wanted to make one final comment. And that is that we do a lot in Arkansas to address the pandemic. We are following public health guidelines. We're being careful, we're limiting our activities. And we're doing everything that we can humanly. But it is also important to recognize that we need the help of divine providence. And it is the right thing to do to call upon Him. And one of the things that encourages me every day, are the letters that I get in from people across Arkansas, and really across the nation that say they are praying for me, praying for our leaders, our national leaders. And so I wanted to recognize the hope and prayers of so many Arkansans by issuing a proclamation today that calls on October 25. This Sunday, as a day of voluntary prayer in Arkansas, in regard to the challenges that we face as a people and that we recognize our dependence on upon a sovereign God and call upon Him for His strength, His wisdom, His guidance and His help. With that, we'll turn it over for any questions. And let's say we got a number of people here. So let's, let's start up in the northwest and see if there's any questions there first.
Hi, Governor. This is Zuzanna Sitec with Ozarks at Large. Um, so the number of deaths has been hovering around 15 to 20. almost daily. Do we know the demographics that's being most affected by this across the state?
Dr. Romero, can you comment on that?
I can provide general comments in more detail. If they contact the health department, most of these deaths are occurring in elderly individuals. And we know that that they are a high risk. Substantial number of these deaths are coming from nursing homes. So it is the older population. We see generally these individuals as over 65 years of age 60 years of age, and coming from nursing homes with regard to ethnicity and race. We don't have that I don't have that detail with me. But we certainly can provide that to you. Thank you. And the
Governor, This is Samantha Boyd with K NWA and Fox 24 News. I have a question regarding CARES Act funding. I talked to the Arkansas Department of Finance administration today about the reimbursement money that cities, counties, and towns are able to receive now but the spokesman I talked to said some areas do not know about this funding yet. How are we notifying towns and counties about this? And is there any way that you're following up if it appears that they still are not aware that that funding is available for them?
Very good question and we rely upon the communication through the Arkansas Municipal League and the Arkansas Association of Counties that have been a great partner in all of this. And so they are regularly communicating with cities and counties about the opportunity, as well as our communication publicly. And so it's a little bit hard to understand a gap. But there can be. And so I will alert these associations and see if we can make sure that every city and county is aware of this opportunity, so we can follow up and, and try to enhance those communications and awareness. Let's, let's move to Central Arkansas. And I know Andrew DeMillo is on here. Andrew, do you have a question?
Yes, sir. Thank you, actually had two questions for you about your announcement about limiting your meetings. Want to see if you elaborate a little bit more on what exactly does does that mean? Is this a straight up quarantine? And if not, what what meetings will you be taking? What interactions Will you still be having? And the second part of the question I had was, you flew around the state yesterday, campaigning for the highway tax measure? Was there any thought given to canceling the those events? And is there any concern about the risk event that might have that might have posed?
Yes, and first of all, I, this is really a matter of a comfort level for the people I'm around. And so if you look at the next week, I'm going to follow the Department of Health guidance. There's not really any guidelines on this, but they recommend that I limit my public activities. And so and that's a comfort matter, I don't want people in a meeting with me that feel uncomfortable, because I might have been around somebody that even though they were 10 feet away, that there might have been that they ultimately tested positive. And so this is really out of an abundance of caution. Yes, I was fully aware that I might have to cancel the events on Monday, which was fly around for Issue One. And that's the reason that I was tested early. And if those tests had come back positive, either the antigen or the PCR, I would not have participated in that trip, and presumably would have gone on without me, but I would not have been participating in it, those tests came back negative. And so I was I did participate in those. And and we also made sure that we wore our mask throughout that day, as I came back after that, the Department of Health had a further discussion with the individual that tested positive. And they said, you know, out of abundance of caution, let's go ahead and not quarantine. But let's limit the engagements to really essential activities. And so some of the public appearances I won't be doing this week. And that again, that's primarily a matter of a comfort of people that I'm around. And and then I will, you know, continue to check myself and if I'll probably be having additional tests this week, based upon any instruction that Dr. Romero gives me. Dr. Romero, do you want to add to that any?
No, just to say that you are correct this, this did not rise to the level of CDC, a quarantine requirement. This was more an issue of precautions and and and the comfort level for those individuals around the governor. And he's been tested. And as you mentioned previously, we will continue to offer testing on a regular basis to make sure that there are no changes in his status.
Any other questions from Central Arkansas?
Yeah, this is the governor, you know,
seven general doctor said that people are not adhering to the mask mandate well enough. So my question is, you don't have any enforcement that has taken place, any written or verbal warnings that have been given out or fines that have been given out to Arkansans who have not been following this mandate.
Well, and I'll let Dr. Romero follow up since you cited him but let me say that everywhere yesterday that I went I was in five different cities. Everybody had a mask on and they were socially distance. They were very, very careful about that. And I realized when people around me they might be a little bit more casual. But I've been impressed with the seriousness of which people are taking it. In terms of enforcement efforts, there have been, in terms of restaurants in terms of public facilities in which the public health guidelines are in place, they have been enforcement actions that have taken place and those type of facilities. In terms of, in general, in non-regulated environment that we still require a mass to be worn, we rely upon the education, the communication from the public health officials, as well as those in law enforcement, and through the municipal offices primarily. And so I want to applaud the Arkansas Municipal Association that have pulled together conversations with the cities and towns and talked about how they can help us in terms of education reminders, and that's what we want. If we if you go into a store, and and there's not someone that should be wearing a mask, or they're totally disregarding those health guidelines, we want to remind them that responsibility, and generally when somebody comes in there with a uniform on or are an official, that's good enough. And so we are taking those steps. We don't expect to have anybody arrested for it. But we do want to have people to comply and to be aware of that requirement. Next question.
Hey, Governor, it's Mitch at Channel Four and Fox. The conversation, you said that the Department of Health followed up with the individual that was in that meeting with you on Friday. And and after that conversation with the Department of Health, that's when they came back told you Hey, out of an abundance of caution, let's do X, Y, and Z. What can you elaborate on what was said in that conversation to change how you are going to move forward? That was the first part of my question. Second is, how often are you going to be tested? Because we know that after an exposure can take up to 10 days for somebody to show symptoms, or 14 days at that matter?
Well, there were a lot of discussions on that. Because I, you know, the CDC guidelines says that, you know, if you're socially distance, if you're six feet apart, then that's the that's the test as to whether you've been exposed 15 minutes, closer than six feet. Well, that was not the case, in my situation. But Dr. Romero, and again, I apologize for not recognize you a moment ago, but I will call on you now. You know, he indicated that even though it was more than six feet, and it was actually quite a bit more than six feet. There is some common sense. And there's some medical interpretation that can go with that. And that's where he gave me that counsel. Dr. Romero, do you want to make a comment?
Yes, sir. So the the CDC guidelines are exactly that guidelines. They need to be analyzed and need to be taken into consideration with the circumstances around a potential exposure. As was said by the Governor, there was a distancing of over six feet. The there was no close contact. And there were other but there were other issues surrounding the the interaction that raised the possibility of exposure. And so because of that, and because of the, again, a stated by the governor of the abundance of caution, we recommended that these precautionary measures be taken.
And Dr. Romero, would you comment on the testing protocols for the next week?
Yes, sir. So, our recommendations are that the Governor undergo testing Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And we will offer both rapid test and a PCR based test to the governor and again on Monday of next week, and then additional testing will be determined at that point. Certainly, if the governor develops any symptoms, we would move to a rapid PCR test immediately on any of those days, intervening the scheduled tests.
Thank you, Dr. Romero. Next question.
Can I ask one?
yes, Max. Hello. Hello.
Yeah. Max Brantley here. The question is, is the latest white hot White House coronavirus taskforce report listed 28 Arkansas counties in the red or orange zone for a number of new cases. The recommendation there was that in those counties, there should be the smallest amount of group gatherings possible, preferably limited to family gatherings. You think we should do anything about high school football in those 28 counties?
Wow. I think the guidelines are clear for high school football, which is preventing those intimate gatherings. And so you know you are, if you're going to have people in stands, they have to be distance, the cheerleaders have to be distance. And so that is really consistent with what the White House is saying to restrict those social those intimate those close gatherings. And that's the design of the people in the stands. Now, if you're talking about the contestants in this in the in the field, obviously, that's close contact, although it might be of limited duration, but those have been approved. And we're very pleased that they're really making every effort to stay healthy. And I think they've been successful by and large, even though there's always exceptions that rule, Max.
Governor Hutchinson, this is Emma Claybrook with 4029 News, I have a question for Secretary Key about the rapid antigen tests that are going to be rolling out in the schools. I was just wondering if we could have a little update on that. What school districts are going to get those and if that is still on target to roll out on November 2.
Go ahead, Secretary Key.
Thank you, Governor. We have identified working with Health Department have identified the schools that would be invited to be part of the rapid testing. And they have been notified we can we have that list that we can make available to you the in the schedule for that as there is a webinar on Wednesday, and then another one on Friday. So the schools can get the information that they need. So that they can understand if this is something they want to be a part of. We are not requiring it. of them. But it is something that based on their numbers based on the health department criteria that they looked at, identify them as potential good candidates for this type of testing, remembering that this is not the surveillance test. This is not testing like we would see if we think we have a hotspot. This is monitoring and screening that we would provide the test kits for and assist districts in testing of personnel would not be required of any of them to do so.
Secretary key Can you tell us if the depths of Arkansas educators like Superintendent Jody Jenkins, are prompting any changes to the way things are currently being done?
They are prompting us to be more diligent and reminding everyone to follow with the caution set forth by the health department. Also reminding us that life is precious, you know that we must understand the severity of the nature of this disease of this virus. And that it's very important that we follow those guidelines. It's a tragedy when that happens. Just please remind us to continue to be doing.
Thank you. Next question.
Governor. It's Josh white from Kitt. jonesborough. Yes. So you and I spoke last week and northeastern northeast Arkansas was doing horribly and you said that you had talked to some local government as well as some law enforcement. White House Task Force pegs 10 counties in Northeast Arkansas. You heard Dr. Romero say that nobody's very few people are wearing masks, northeast Arkansas took over from Northwest Arkansas for the first time. At what point is something else going to be done in northeast Arkansas, to see to bring the see what can be done to bring these numbers down? Because asking iand pleading, and I'm not even sure if praying on Sunday is going to bring them down in this area?
Well, I would want to reverse the question, what is Northeast Arkansas going to do individually and as a community to bring the cases down? This is you know, whenever the cases were skyrocketed in Northwest Arkansas, there was a lot of action that was taken, both combined. You know from education to everybody just recognizing Wow, this is serious. And I'm you know, Northeast Arkansas is a great community. There's great community leaders. I was there yesterday, as you know, everybody was masked, everybody was distance. And so you know you've got contrarians And I hope it's the community that provides the leadership to say, this is critical for our hospitals. I mean, our the hospitals in Northeast Arkansas, it's tight. And we want to relieve some of that pressure. And the way you do it is to reduce that spread of covid 19. So we're always looking at ways from a state standpoint, but I really challenge each community to look at what more they can do as well. Dr. Romero, did you have a comment there?
Yes, I did. So I want to make sure that what I said was that the continuing numbers of cases indicates that 50% or more of our population are not using the mass consistently. So I'm not saying that few people are using it. What I'm saying is that we need to get more persons to use it consistently. And that's key to bring this down. Also, let me take a moment to talk about another issue. And that is that the CDC is, and we are noticing this too, that these, these, these family gatherings are also being now sources of contagion. And it's during those family gatherings where we tend to drop our guard, if you will. And so in those gatherings also, we need to keep the idea of social distancing of distancing as much as possible, using a mask as appropriate, washing our hands, because those those gatherings are going to be more frequent, and will certainly serve to drive this forward this this pandemic forward in the coming months.
Governor, it's Neal Glader in Hot Springs. To the doctor's point. And Dr. Fauci mentioned over the weekend about family gatherings as well. And he went so far as to suggest that families that don't live together might have to consider not even being together for Thanksgiving. When you're having trouble getting some folks to follow the mask mandate, how difficult? And how concerned, I don't know if it's for you, or for Dr. Romero, are you about Thanksgiving holidays, and people planning now for what they're going to do at the end of November?
Well, that's a good point that we forget, sometimes that the planning starts early. We need to get through Halloween first. And then Thanksgiving comes. And but we recognize that planning is taking place. And this is not a matter of state mandates and requirements. All we can do is admonish and remind, and because these are within individual home gatherings, and so yes, we need to you need to think through that as to where are they traveling from? You know, how careful are they? You know, what is going to happen when they get there? And how many are there? So those are questions that families need to make those decisions on. And, and I think that they will be more limited this year. Naturally. It's a precious time where we give thanks. And I think they can find different ways to do that families can get together, it just needs to be in a limited and very careful fashion. Dr. Romero?
Yes, sir. So I echo exactly what the governor has said. You know, the CDC recently published an example of this, where a single individual managed to infect not only their primary family, but extended members of the family that came to visit for even a period of time. So again, consideration for limiting the exposure within the family, I think we all tend to lower our guard because it is his family, we are family members, we feel safe in environments. But that's not always the best thing to do. I want everybody to keep in mind that 30 to 40% of all cases of COVID-19 actually are asymptomatic, you have no symptoms at all. And those are really the cases that we worry about because you can guard against somebody who has a sniffles with a cough or sore throat. But if you don't have any symptoms, you really are at risk for transmitting that and becoming infected if you don't know that person is affected.
Is there any other question?
Hey, Governor, it's Mitch, again. If I might just ask a another question or two. The follow up on Dr. Romero. He had mentioned that a testing for you. Would it be a Monday Wednesday, Friday? Is that begin tomorrow? Or is that next week in second? What was the protocol on the plane yesterday?
Well, gotcha. Well, in terms of the protocol on the on the plane, we wore masks on the plane. That was a protocol. And we actually had surgical mask N95 mask, as well as regular mask that were available to us. So we wore masks on the plane, that was the protocol. Dr. Romero, did you want to comment on the testing?
Yes, sir. So the testing began this week on Monday. And I was referring to Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week and Monday of next week, also, additional testing will be added as necessary.
So, tomorrow. Any last question?
Hey, this is Andy Davis with the Democrat Gazette. Regarding the the meeting with the person who tested positive. Can you say anything bad to that person was? And are there other people, state officials, for instance, who are having to quarantine or also tested positive as a result of this?
There, I will not give you the name of the individual. There's certain health HIPAA requirements of privacy. But in terms of other people in the administration, the answer is there are others that are following the same or similar protocols as I'm following. Similar to based upon what the Department of Health has directed them. With that, thank you for giving us attention today. And I don't want to cut anybody off. Is there anybody on there that wanted to ask a question? All right, I think we're good. Thank you, and we'll see you soon. Be safe.