201113_COVID-19 Press Briefing
7:51PM Nov 13, 2020
Andy Davis - ADG
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Dr. Jose Romero
Leslie Peacock - Ark Times
Dr. Greg Bledsoe
Good afternoon to everyone. Thank you for joining me. I'm joined a course by Dr. Jose Romero, the Department of Health, as well as Dr. Greg Bledsoe our Surgeon General is with us. And we have Dr. Jones is coming in also, I first want to express my deep sadness, and the heartache of the entire people of Arkansas on the death of Helena, West Helena police officer Travis Wallace, who was fatally shot last night in the line of duty. And I am signing a proclamation today that will lower the state flag through the date of his memorial service. And I talked to the police chief today and expressed our heart ache over this. And our prayers are with the officers family, as well as with the entire community, and with the police department, because when we lose one, and we've lost too many, it's a burden for all of them to care. Now, let me go to the purpose of this news conference today. And that is I am announcing the creation of the governor's COVID-19 winter Task Force. And this is the result of the fact that the winter months pose particular challenges for us. We have our hospitalization rates that are going up. We have our case loads that are going up not just in Arkansas, but nationally. And the critical link is our hospitals. And so one of the major focal points of this task force will be to look at our hospital capacity, what more can be done to manage that capacity coordinate, and what relief the state can provide in terms of support for our hospitals and the staff. And let me emphasize the importance of this and the timeliness of it. Because even though our daily report will not come out until later today, I did I get a report from Dr. Romero, that the last 24 hours we've had an additional 2312 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Arkansas. This is a record number. We have an additional 21 hospitalizations. And we're at a record number in hospitalizations of 826. This taskforce is created by an executive order that I've signed today and created this. And its responsibility will be to investigate advise and make recommendations to me. This is a governor's Task Force. That while the Department of Health will continue to be the lead agency for implementing our fight against the pandemic. It is important to have this taskforce that will give guidance on this important issue. The reason as I've said again, is a number of hospitalizations, but also the strain on our staff. And they've been at this for eight months. Many of the hospital staff to large a number has to be quarantined themselves because of exposure. And so that shortens their work time that puts strain on others. The question is, you know, what additional help, can we give that staff? Is there relief from the quarantine rules that make sense in the hospital environment? You know, what can we do to help in that and that's one of the things this taskforce will look at. And the staff of courses, not just because of quarantines, but also because of costs and the fact that we've got recruiters that are looking at our hospital staff and recruiting the work, work elsewhere and giving a bonus for that. So it's a very competitive environment. And we want to see what we can look at further. I want to illustrate this
challenge shortly. But I'm asking for the task force to meet a look into investigate three particular areas actually for particular areas. And the first one is how can we better coordinate the COVID case slot caseload statewide. Last night, I was on a call with a Central Arkansas hospital administrators and I've talked regularly to the different areas of the state. And there's a lot of coordination going on within the regions We're to the point we need to expand that coordination. I asked this taskforce to look at this, and this will illustrate it by some of the we can show our graph here. The next one. Here's the hospitalizations You see, that's just shows that it's a record number, the next one, and this breaks down the percent of hospital resources used by COVID-19 patients. And this is important because whenever the public hears that our hospital staff is strained, you know, our space is limited. They think that Well, our COVID patients take up 100% of our ICU beds or our ventilators. And that's certainly not the case. And you can see here, in terms of hospital resources by COVID patients in hospital beds itself, it's less than 10%. in ICU beds, it's 30%, down to 28%, ventilators, you can see those are different days that represented there. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday is the distinction. But you can see the percent is increasing in terms of ICU beds and ventilators. But it's still a small capacity compared to the hole that we have. Now let's go to the next one. And this breaks it down not by public health regions, but by hospital zones. And so here is the Southwest metrics. And you can see the difference here. 60% of the ventilators in South Arkansas Southwest is being used by COVID patients. And so they're much greater stress there. 41% of the ICU beds, hospital beds are over 10%. Next one, the metro region is a little bit certainly different statistics here on the usage. The next one Northwest hospital region, you can see different metrics again, as to the percent of their capacity that's being used for covid patients. Of course, the rest of the beds are being used for elective surgeries, the routine health needs that all of our patients have, and you do not want those to be sacrificed because that's going to put us all in poor health as we go on. And so hospitals are having to manage both the covid payslip caseload, as well as the regular caseload and we don't want either one to suffer, we've got to manage between those. And it takes a high level of coordination between all of the hospitals to accomplish that. And will, the next one is probably the north northeast, you can see different statistics there. The next one, South East, and they're the ventilators 85%. On Thursday, in the southeast, were being occupied by COVID patients. So that's the highest and so you can see the need for that higher level of coordination. We'll stop there. So I've asked them, How can we better coordinate the COVID caseload statewide? Secondly, how can the state assist in increasing staff resources? And, again, there's a burden on the staff, we want to look at ways that we can be helpful to
increase their resources. And I want to see what recommendations they come up with what additional steps make sense for increasing compliance with the mask mandate. Those that are working in a hospital environment, obviously, want that caseload to be reduced to hospitalizations to be reduced, and it starts with individual disciplines. And then how can we reduce the number of high cases and reduce the burden on our hospitals? Let me go to, as I mentioned that I will chair this group but I need to have an April, Vice Chair and I've asked Dr. Greg Bledsoe our Surgeon General, to be the vice chair of this task force course. I will have Dr. Romero on the task force as well for let me give you a sense of the task force members. Larry shackleford, president ceo of the Washington Regional Medical Center, Chris Barber, president ceo of St. Bernard's health care in the northeast, Scott street Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado Dr. kam Patterson, a chancellor of UAE Ms. Rachel Bunche, Executive Director of the Arkansas Health Care Association, Bo rile CEO of the Arkansas Hospital Association Troy Wells presidencial Baptist Health, Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith and Major General Kindle pin Adjutant General Arkansas National Guard, AJ Geary director of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. And yes, both are on there to help us to look into the future for any surge capacity that is needed. That's outside of the hospital facility. Dr. Romero, Dr. geralyn Jones of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Jennifer dilla. Hey, Dr. Navin Patil, all of the Department of Health, Dr. Kier vs. University of Arkansas medical sciences, Philip Gilmore, CEO of Ashley County Medical Center. Dr. Steven call your CEO of our care. Ron Peterson, president ceo of Baxter County Regional Medical Center. And then I will add additional members to that task force as needed. And as we may have recognized that we don't everything covered I will add as needed. The first meeting of this taskforce will be Monday at 8am. And we most of this will be by zoom call, it will not be a public meeting, it will be a private consultation working session with me. And with the vice chair, Dr. Bledsoe and with Dr. Romero. So with that, that covers those items, I do want to add that we are devoting right now for the winter COVID advertising budget 1.1 point $6 million to the marketing strategy for the fall and winter. That is $1 million through the Department of Health. And that is an additional $600,000 that will be through Department of Parks heritage and tourism and ADC. And we're getting $400,000 of cares Act funding. And so we understand that that's one of the things that has to be done in this environment is continue and enhance the messaging to broad members of the public as to what they can do, the numbers get their attention, but we want to be clear as to how they can help us. Finally, I did want to mention that I have authorized 30 members of the National Guard to assist the Department of Health in case investigation. As you may recall, we've had a number of our National Guard personnel from time to time through this pandemic, assisting in different areas, whenever we had a decline in our caseload, but also the infrastructure the Department of Health built up, we sent those National Guard services back to their units. But we are now overloaded again, in terms of our contact tracing and case investigation. We need that help. Because the nurse investigators have a lot on their plate. And we need those additional help from the National Guard. And so I've authorized that. And they'll be working on that deployment in the future. With that, let me
have turned up for questions. And I'm sure during the questions that I'll ask Dr. Romero and Dr. Bledsoe to help answer these and Dr. Jones if need be. But with that, we'll turn it over for questions. So
by increasing resources, are you talking about money or pay?
That's why now if you look back since a pandemic started, we did put I think it was close to $70 million into bonuses for frontline hospital workers that are dealing with COVID patients. That money has expired. And so it's something that we will always look at whether there's additional state resources that can help us and I will wait on the task force. I don't want to prejudge what they might recommend. We now have limited cares act resources, but we do have some. And so we don't have the same level of funding for that we could look into state resources in addition if need be, but that's just something that always should be on the table as a consideration if we can help to sustain our staff and make sure that we have our patients covered with adequate staff. Yes,
we've had several days of record increases, you know what is being done at this moment to stop that And could you see yourself going backwards? We had a lot less patience when we're in Phase One is that something you could see going back to?
Again, the emphasis has to be on what works nationally, everyone is saying, and up from Dr. Fauci all the way through, wear your mask, socially distance, watch the Thanksgiving gatherings. And there's really a greater sense that that is where the heart of the challenge is, is complying with a simple public health guidelines. And if we do that, we don't have to take any other steps there. But, you know, as if you see cases go up, I'm sure the taskforce will have discussions, and I've asked them to have that discussion. As to Is there anything additional that is consistent with saving lives across the board keeping are not causing unnecessary unemployment, but that we can do? Obviously, we will consider those things. I want to invite Dr. Romero and Dr. If you want to add anything to that, anyone.
So really, the important issue here is that the public can take care of this. This is public health. The first word in public health is public. We now know from the CDC that these maps not only protect others, but protect us, there's data to suggest that we are not bringing this under control, because persons are not adhering to the three W's. We need them to wash their hands, wear their masks and watch their distances. If that we do that we can bring it under control. This is not up to a single simple act to bring under control. It is the public's responsibility. It is personal responsibility, and personal care for others. It is not too bad, too late to stop this. But everyone must realize the importance of this
standpoint, do you think we're going to get to the point that we need to start fighting people for not wearing
I leave that decision to the governor. I think that we can put pressure on each other to maintain this mask mandate to make sure that we adhere to it. It's difficult. I understand that. But we need to do it.
Thank you, Governor. And thank you, Dr. Romero. And I just want to say that I echo what Dr. Romero has said about mask. You know, I base my opinion on mass not just because of what the CDC says. But as a clinical physician working in the hospital. I've been working in the hospital for eight months taking care of covid patients. And we've been wearing masks. And so far that's been an effective thing, whether you're dealing with patients in the emergency department or intubating patients mass seem to help reduce the risk of transmission to health care providers who are dealing with these folks. And so my recommendation to wear a mask is based not just on what the federal government is saying, not just what the research is showing, but just working with COVID patients in high risk situations. And, you know, and seeing the reduction and transmission to our hospital staff by wearing in 95 and surgical mask appropriately. But I do want to say one other thing. I mean, a lot of people have reached out to me over the last few weeks because I myself, I've had a covid diagnosis, my family, with seven members of my family tested positive for covid. And I think it's an interesting case study. Because when you look at the people in my family who were diagnosed with covid, from my nine year old Emery, who's, you know, the youngest who got it to my father, who's turned 77 this month, who was the oldest member of our family who had a covid positive test, each member of our family had different symptoms and different responses to the virus. Most of us had fairly mild symptoms. My wife and I, my mother had what I would say moderate symptoms, but my dad ended up in the hospital for 10 days receiving IV medicines and got very sick. Thankfully, he's been discharged, he's doing much better, and he's at home and goes back to work next week. But if you have a one in seven rate in families, of people ending up in the hospital, you can see where resources would be a problem. And so I just want to echo just you know, not not only as a citizen of Arkansas, not only as the Surgeon General of the state, but as a an individual who's walked through this now with his family. This is a virus that is very difficult to contain, but it's also difficult to predict what's going to happen when you get it. And in our family. One of our family members ended up in the hospital. Again, thankfully He's doing well but you can see that if that's multiplied multiple times around the state Then we have a resource problem, I really applaud the governor for his leadership on this, this task force is going to help coordinate resources. hospitals around the state have been working over time dealing with this issue for many months. But there are better ways that we can coordinate the system as a whole. And then also share information. There are different protocols at hospitals for when someone needs to not work. And when someone is allowed to work. For instance, in some hospitals, if you have a health care provider who has a family member who's tested positive, they're not allowed to work anymore. And in other hospitals, they are allowed to work as long as they're wearing an in 95 mask, and they have themselves tested negative. So these are sort of the are some of the things that we as a taskforce are going to be looking at how to better use our resources, better spread those resources equitably around the state, so that we can do the best we can for the people of Arkansas, but it starts primarily with prevention. There's no amount of resources that are available anywhere in the world, if we don't slow the growth of this. And if we don't take this seriously. So I would encourage the people of Arkansas take this seriously. Wear your mask, continue to abide by the recommendations of the state, get your flu shot, wash your hands, these things are very important. And I appreciate the governor and Dr. Romero, and all they've been doing over these months to provide leadership.
What effect are the number of hospitalizations having on hospitals now? Like, how are they dealing with that? And what is this going to look like if the number of patients keeps increasing?
Dr. Jones, I'm a I'll say a word. I'm gonna let you tack a little bit of that, because she works regularly with the hospitals. But you know, I talked to them. And they do an incredible job of managing their COVID patients with their elective surgeries. They work within their environment in their region and their system. And so they make adjustments. But, you know, I've anecdotally, you know, they're getting to the point that they might have to tell a surgeon, can you delay this surgery because we're utilizing the ICU capacity for covid patients. Now, that's one of the ways that they make adjustments, but they are managing it. And but the longer you looked down the road, it can get more challenging, and we want to be prepared for that. Dr. Jones, could you elaborate?
Thank you, Governor. So yes, in conversations with hospital CEOs all over the state, they do assure me that they are able to manage their caseload as it's going now, again, it's a mix of taking care of COVID patients and regular patients who had perhaps initially delayed care and they're coming back to the hospital sicker, so our hospitals are more full. But hospitals are, you know, trained. And they do this all the time. So they're able to move things around and do different staffing ratios and things like that, to make sure that everybody that walks through the door gets taken care of. But again, I want to emphasize what has been said earlier, this is what's happening right now. And this is not a process that we want to sustain. So I want to again, emphasize the public health measures, make sure everyone is marrying, wearing their mask, maintaining social distancing, washing their hands, limiting their guy limiting their gatherings, because all of these things are going to help us decrease the amount of disease in the community. And that's going to in turn decrease the numbers that are ending up in the hospital. It's turned into a marathon and not a sprint. And I think a lot of our mind shift has to change to that. We've been going through this for several months, but we need to, you know, steadfast, and hold on and make sure we're continuing to practice those public health guidelines.
you mentioned that the Department of Health is going to continue to be the lead and despite the pandemic, they recommended to an a shutdown last month you chose not to is there? It's not correct.
It is not correct.
And correct me when
I asked for a number of options, and they presented options, that does not mean recommendations. Dr. Romero, please. That's an important point. And I
see you're more than is a recommendation to do a shutdown wizard or not
recommend No This was it's been mischaracterized. And so I think I've said this before, I'll say it again, we were tasked with providing the governor a series of options. Among those options were those that you're talking about, but it was not a recommendation. So and there were many other options in that in that list that he that for the governor to consider. So again, I want to make sure make sure that everybody understands Going forward, we provide the health department provides options to the governor. And we discuss those options. And he makes a decision based on the situations at hand. This taskforce will further provide him with information to make decisions as we go forward.
taskforce having one of these recommendations to be a shutdown, would that be something to see?
I would certainly hope not. And there's there's a lot of difference. First of all, we didn't shut down in March and April, and I'm opposed to shut down. I don't want to see that happen. You can never predict exactly what's the future is going to be like, and you can't rule out anything. But that's not the direction we're going. We want to keep our economy open. And if people do what they need to do, you don't need to shut it down. Now, going back to the question, because I think it is important, and there has been some misunderstanding of that. I ordinary, I routinely will ask my lead agency, the Department of Health, Dr. Romero, can you have your physician advisory group, look at what else can be done, just be creative, what options are out there, because we have a consistent path. And so I get a lot of different options that are out there. Some can be a very minority event, some can be a larger group that proposes that, but we don't want to shut down. And I don't expect that to be the result of this task force. But I do want to give them the latitude to make give me options and to discuss anything that they see needs to be done. All right, we got one back here,
marketing budget campaign that you guys are going to be doing throughout the various mediums. Is there anything that you can do different than what you've been doing? To convince those people that just absolutely won't accept the reality of the situation? What can we do to actually get to do what they need to do?
Well, it's it's hard to imagine anyone not being knowledgeable about the scientific basis for face coverings. But sometimes advertising can hit different ways, different messages that appeal to them. So I know our our ad team is going to be very creative in it, part of it will be a strictly department of health message. Others will be if you want to keep the economy open, you've got to be able to wear a mask and prevent the spread of the virus. So I hope that they'll have different messages that will appeal to different parts of our population and hopefully penetrate that. Yes. So
I've been told that have not been able to confirm that. It is policy and some chicken plants that if you have to quarantine you can, you can and you'll get paid. But if you have to quarantine again, you will not be paid at one period where you are allowed off with is that something this taskforce could address? Is that something you know about? I don't know
the answer that question. And in terms of this task force, I want them to concentrate first on the hospital environment. In our cases, I think that would be outside of their general responsibility or the assignment that they've been given.
Then would somebody else be looking into policies like better? Do you feel like you can interfere and private business policies?
Well, I mean, the federal government in the one of the original acts did set some guidelines for the private sector in terms of payment and quarantines. And so I assume the businesses follow that the state is not set, any specific ones for the general populace, General businesses that are out there. That can always be appointed discussion, but I would have to look into it further. Let's go. Is there any question remotely that people are there? Yeah. This is Andrew with AP. had a few questions for you. First of all, I am pologize. If I missed this, in terms of the timeline, is there is there a set date that you want to get recommendations from this task force? and had a couple questions for you regarding your comments yesterday, on that Facebook Live. When you were asked about an economic policy you had that this made reference to the state facing potential for very, very difficult decisions if there's not hospital space. What decisions are on the are on the table or what what decisions are Willing to bear to look at? And if it reaches that point where there's not hospital space is, is that too late to make to make that decision? Well, that's what this taskforce will be charged with looking at, you know, what is our timelines? What is our limits for taking additional steps if need be. So I think that whole arena of and holistic view will be accomplished by this taskforce in terms of how this is going to work. This is a fast moving pandemic, and we've got to move fast. That's why we're meeting at 8am. On Monday, they may in that conversation, come up with some ideas that we implement immediately, we're not going to wait for a written report, we're going to take action as needed, much of it will need to be developed further is gonna have to be more study done in this. But we're, we're going to be taking action periodically as needed as a result of where we are in the pandemic and the work of this taskforce. Next question.
Governor, good afternoon. It's Neil, governor in hot springs. Two questions, please. With regard to the third point that you want to accomplish increased compliance with your mass mandate? Is it possible you might have to add someone from law enforcement onto your task force for that. And the second is that if I had the numbers, right, about 400 additional students in K through 12, tested positive this week between Monday and the report yesterday. I know Dr. Key said or excuse me, Secretary, he said on Tuesday, there's there's nothing to what was a rumor about going to Virtual Education after Thanksgiving. And before Christmas, if those numbers keep coming up with that have to be reconsidered.
There's no plan to change our commitment to school, and to the option of going all virtual. You know, if you look at what the medical community, the scientific community talk about, is the importance of that option of in classroom instruction for so many different students, it is important that we have the virtual option, and that we have the ability to pivot. And so that's what you're seeing whenever it's challenging in particular school, they pivot to online instruction, I expect that pattern to continue. But we want to be able to maintain that commitment to the option of in classroom instruction as well, and not simply go all virtual, I don't think that's the right thing for our kids. And we'll work through that. And we'll continue to monitor it and see if any adjustments had to be made at any time. But that's not any plan. Do that no end Oh, you asked about forcing them to they have a lot of force. I think that's a, I want to give that some more thought. But there is a reason that we left options to put more people on there. It might be helpful for law enforcement to understand deeply what this means to our medical community. I think they do. And we got some real leaders in law enforcement community, but, you know, to the mask mandate, there is a penalty in there. And there is the ability for enforcement. But there's a hesitancy of doing that, understandably so. And, you know, we've encouraged our law enforcement encouraged our municipal officials to be more forward leaning on education, on reminders, and part of that is, you know, take following the steps that's outlined in the executive order if needed. Any other question? Okay. Governor,
this is crystal Martinez with kW a news. I just wanted to ask we've been hearing from a lot of city leaders, that they are just having a hard time at pushing out people wearing masks, social distancing, is there anything else that they can do at a city level to better enforce these guidelines? It needs to be issuing these citations. And a memo I was asked to relay I know the mayor of Decatur has been trying to get in touch with ADH asking for some help with handling the pandemic in that city. How can leaders get in touch with you or the ADH? Because I know he said he has to be able to hear back from anyone just yet.
You tell me how municipal leaders get in touch with us.
Well, you know, for a municipal leader, I would suggest that they can call Dr. Romero or any of his team directly or my office. Doug Smith can help coordinate that. But also, the Municipal League itself has done a great job. job of coordinating. And so the Municipal League will can be helpful to the municipal leaders in giving them guidance coordinating with our office. So the Municipal League has really been a key partner in this. I think that that answer your question, Was there another part to it?
Yeah, just the first half on house, what else cities can do and municipal leaders to push these guidelines being enforced? I just know that educating hasn't quite worked with some people within the community. And we're just seeing arising cases in like Siloam springs where they've been having this issue?
Well, again, I would encourage them to coordinate the Municipal League they have talking points, they have information that can be provided guidance as to how local officials can handle that. And our Department of Health can help as well. And what I've started to say, part of the leadership comes from businesses in terms of the compliance. And I spoke with Representative Walmart today. And I was pleased to see that they issued a directive in which they're going to reinforce their distancing within the stores again, and have more specific guidance on that. So these are positive steps that businesses take. And we need more of them to step out and say we're going to really push the compliance for the public health guidelines within their own business. Next question.
He got writers at local 24 news in Memphis, if you are someone from the taskforce could update about the Northeast Arkansas hospital situation and some trends that we're seeing in that region of the state.
Dr. Jones, you want to tackle it.
So I'm, again, in conversations with folks in northeast, they are handling the caseload as they're able to so they're able to manage what's going on. They have northeast in terms of coordination for disasters and other things. And they are definitely a model to follow. And they routinely work together as the larger hospitals and the some of the smaller facilities and the oil tax and things like that. And so they have implemented plans that they had laid out long time ago, and are working their plan so they're able to manage their caseload.
I think we got time for maybe one more question here at the table. Yeah, Sandy?
How much? Do you think school sports are contributing to the increase in cases? And is that something that you would look at curtailing?
Well, I think we address that, in part that we plan on keeping our schools open. We have had the I'm sorry, what?
particular like football games basketball, you know,
the football season has been fairly successful in terms of being able to complete the games, we've had to postpone a couple of them because of COVID. But they've managed their way through it. I think they're getting ready for the playoffs. I know Dr. Romero is a little bit more worried about basketball, because it is inside. And and so we're going to have to watch that very carefully. But we need our young people to and the parents and the parents who come and watch these games because it is an inside environment. follow the guidelines that the school provides, make sure that we keep the right distance scenes so that student athletes can be as safe as possible, and that they can complete their season. But that could be some challenging in this environment that we didn't have necessarily even with football. But Dr. Romero, I know did you want to say anything more to that.
So we are specifically looking at cases related to sporting activities. And we are looking at the issue of basketball to make sure there is no team to Team transmission. One of the things that's really important to keep in mind about athletics is that it's not just about the athletics per se, it's the activities that go around the athletics. So they're getting together afterwards, or they're going to parties. Those are the things that are bringing the infection into the into the athletic area. We know it can be done. We see that with our college sports. It just has to be we have to adhere to the to these recommendations. So avoid contact outside of that activity.
Thank you for attention today. And I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon and will and weekend. We'll see you soon. Thank you