Graphs of today’s numbers, captured by Josh Spurgers:
Excerpts of Today’s Media Update
We’re highlighting portions of the media update that seem relevant, but we encourage you to watch the full update. If you find a part that seems like it should be called out here, let us know.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson [9:06]:
The important statistic is the overall positivity rate. The overall positivity rate that we’ve seen is 6.5% since we started the pandemic. We continue to monitor that.
And if we go through the graphs, you can see that this is the largest day of the orange — which are the community cases — in a single day, even though this is not the largest day of total cases in a single day.
And then, if you go to the rolling graph, you can see the up and down. And obviously, whenever you have a seven-day rolling average, with this spike that we see today, that means that over the next seven days you’re gonna see that trend line go up some and it’s going to take us a while to give that back down.
If you go to the next slide, you’ll see this is the rolling average — as I mentioned — of positive cases in Arkansas, which is, again, a new graph that we’re starting to show from time to time. Ten percent is, of course, the CDC guidelines. We’ve largely stayed underneath that. Our seven-day rolling average stays underneath that. And the latest positivity rate is about 7%, even though we’re really targeting our testing — to a large extent — through our public health department.
And if you go to our next slide, we’ll see that we’re on target for the month of June, where we set a goal of doing 120,000 tests. We’re at 92,275 tests and it will be continued over the weekend and through the rest of the month.
And then finally, I wanted to talk about face coverings. And Dr. Smith, at my request is issuing — and with the support of the public health team — the Department of Health is issuing new guidance today in reference to face coverings. And based upon the above data that is cited — and we wanted to really lay this out for the public as to the reasons that face coverings make a difference. And so, that’s articulated in the guidance. And they make the following recommendations — and these are the highlights of it — that face coverings should be worn in all indoor settings where you’re exposed to non household members and physical distancing of six feet or more cannot be assured. Very, very important and then in outdoor settings where you’re exposed to non-household members, you should wear face coverings unless there is a space of six feet or more that you can practice physical distancing. And then it goes on and describes that cloth face coverings have been shown to be sufficient for the general public and effective in preventing transmission. And it describes very clearly as to how the coverings should be worn to protect against that transmission.
This is important guidance for the public. Now, just so there won’t be any confusion, this is the same type of guidance that we give to our houses of worship, which is the best practices that they should implement, but it’s not a directive in which carries a a civil penalty with that. And that is an enforcement issue. But it’s also — when it comes to churches — it recognizes that separation of church and state. But we provide that guidance and by-and-large churches have adhered to that. We’re asking the public in the same way to follow the recommendations of the Arkansas Department of Health. And this will be posted on the website today. And this is an important additional announcement that we’re making today to help guide that. And I encourage everyone to really look at some of the case studies that are in the guidance and references the scientific literature that shows that, when face masks are used by a majority of the population of public settings, then it is effective and starting to reduce that transmission. And so, help us out, follow that recommendation and it’ll make a difference as we go through this.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nathaniel Smith [15:59]:
The governor has mentioned masks. There are things that we know that do work to limit the transmission of COVID-19 and one of those is face masks. We’re putting out this guidance. Unfortunately, face masks are often times underutilized for that purpose, for limiting the transmission of COVID-19, and sometimes misunderstood. The mask I wear protects you. The mask you wear protects me. When we all wear them together, we protect each other.
One of the stories or cases that’s mentioned in our guidance is a situation in Missouri where a stylist was infected with COVID-19, but because they wore masks in the setting — both the stylist and the patrons — there were no additional cases, no transmission occurred in that work site setting. We’ve also seen that at the Arkansas Department of Health. We’ve had a number of our staff who have tested positive, but no transmissions in the work site because of the physical distancing, because of the wearing masks, etc.
When we’re looking at our spike of over 700 total cases today, we look back and we see last Friday, we also had a spike of over 700 cases. I don’t have enough information on those to tell you exactly where each of those individuals acquired their infection, how it was transmitted. But when you see a weekly pattern like that and you go back the five or six days of the average incubation period at least there’s a suggestion that what’s happening on the weekends is having some bearing there.
So, we have focused a lot of attention on work sites, which is good and appropriate. We need to continue to do that, but when it comes to the weekend, people can’t let their guard down in terms of attending large events, not physical distancing and especially not wearing masks. Because then we can see transmission in those settings. And one of the settings that I want to particularly point out is our places of worship. And those are very affirming and important parts of the community’s activity and they can be done just as safely as we can in work sites. But we need the same precautions.
We have a list of about 25 places of worship, so far, where we’ve had one or more cases — not necessarily transmitted in that place of worship, but people who were in attendance who had COVID-19 infections. Unfortunately, in at least a third of those settings, the place of worship was not implementing masks — at least not requiring it or the majority of attendees were not wearing masks. And that’s a risk, especially in larger congregation. So, this is something that we need to look at very carefully if we want to limit the spread of COVID-19, especially on the weekends.
We’re also continuing to look at hospitalizations very carefully, making sure that no hospitals have an excessive number of cases. The largest number that we have in any one hospital is 33 — 18 ICU and 9 ventilator. So, we’re continuing to monitor that situation carefully.
And the last thing I wanted to talk about was our CDC team. They continue to work in the northwest part of the state — Benton and Washington Counties. Among the activities that they’re doing, specifically they’re mapping those transmission networks so we can get a better idea of how to interrupt those chains of transmission. They’re able to do a deeper level of analysis than we’re able to do in real-time as we’re doing our contact tracing. And we expect that to be very valuable to us. They’ve indicated at this point, they plan to be there for about another two weeks.
There was a report on National Public Radio today — it wasn’t their own research, but the cited research that Arkansas needs 1,600 contact tracers, based on our population. Is there any way to reach that number here?
Dr. Smith [20:51]:
There have been a number of different ways of calculating how many contact tracers that we would potentially need. An earlier report had said over 900. It really comes down to the strategy that you’re using for contact tracing. Some states, they’re using fairly low-level trained individuals, more like community health workers, and they will need a lot. We are finding it more useful to have people with a higher level of training. And also using software — our Sara Alert software — can help us in that, as well. Also partnering, for example, with educational institutions and with work sites to enable us — to help us with that contact tracing. I don’t think we’ll need that many, but we’ll continue to grow our numbers to meet our needs.
What would be optimal, do you think, if you could have what you want?
Dr. Smith [21:47]:
Well, part of this is not trying to see where the puck is now but where the puck is going. And anticipating how many active cases that we’re going to be dealing with a few months from now, it’s difficult to know. We’ve had our ups and our downs with that. Certainly, the 350 that we will be adding as part of the CARES Act Steering Committee will more than double our contact tracers and that will help. And in particular, it will give us people who are specifically trained to do that work and equipped.
I guess, at this point, why not just put out some directive for mask-wearing? Maybe not just a blanket “you have to wear one all the time,” but why not implement some of that moreso into the community, especially if, as Dr. Nate said, we’re seeing this as being a problem of being out and about on the weekends?
Governor Hutchinson [22:20]:
Well, my experience with Arkansans is — you give them information, they will make good judgments. We’re trying to give them good information so that they make good decisions in terms of public health. It’s also an enforcement issue.
And today, I had an email from someone who traveled through Arkansas and went to a particular restaurant and said only two of the waitstaff were wearing masks and asked us to enforce our directive, which is appropriate — filed a complaint. And so, we’ll have someone from the Department of Health go out and look at enforcing that.
So, I think it’s most important to use enforcement resources for where our directive is in place, in terms of restaurants and other businesses, because those are directives.
But this is not what you want to see in Arkansas, that you’re going to be having people call the governor’s office and say, “I saw John or Jane Doe out on the street they didn’t have a mask.”
And so, if you’re going to make a law or a directive — and that’s what a directive is — then it’s not good policy not to have the ability to enforce or the fact that it’s going to really make the directive illegitimate to begin with. So, that’s the reason that — when it comes to individuals — it is guidance that we expect and want people to follow. And that’s a reason that we — because we had the guidance in many different places, and we pulled it into one and made it more clear. Hopefully, it’ll have a greater impact with Arkansas.
Is there any other location where you would consider making it a directive, like a grocery store or a big box store?
Governor Hutchinson [24:37]:
That’s a good question. And we’ve already done that in terms of some of the face-to-face businesses. There are directives as to how they reopened. And this was put into place in terms of face coverings being a part of it. We do have that in place, in terms of workers in some of the essential industries. But from a public standpoint, we have maintained it as guidance. We continue to evaluate what works well. And if we need to make adjustments down the road, we can make adjustments.
Jay Bir [25:14]:
In response to Fayetteville — and now Little Rock — putting out their masks orders and things like that, how would that differ maybe from cities putting in curfews in, if it’s something that they feel that our city should do this? I’m just kind of curious as to what the difference between the two might be.
Governor Hutchinson [25:37]:
Well, we gave under our original emergency powers — we gave authority for cities to coordinate with us in terms of curfews. We still have that same policy. If they coordinate with us, we’ll see if it is in conflict with our general guidance. But it’s important that the public have one general guidance on this issue, and it should come from the Department of Health. We have provided that guidance, and if there is something that’s consistent with that’s not more restrictive or goes against it, then we’ll have that conversation with particular city. I’ve not seen that push. I’ve talked to a lot of mayors. I was in Fort Smith yesterday. They support this guidance that we’re giving from the Department of Health.
With the emphasis on masks and what you’re saying today, do you still have — are you still seeing the same thing, in terms of does not being transmitted in restaurants and other locations like that, that have been able if you open up? And if not, then where in the community is it being transmitted?
Governor Hutchinson [28:46]:
We look at that very closely, and so — Dr. Smith mentioned churches today. But in terms of restaurants and others, we don’t see a correlation between the increase in cases and the lifting of restrictions in those areas.
Dr. Smith [29:10]:
I think where we’re seeing transmission is in any places where people gathering and they’re not maintaining physical distancing or wearing masks. And I think from community to community, that can differ. Part of what we’re hoping that our CDC team will do is, as they map out those transmission networks, we will get insight into those communities that are being hardest hit with COVID-19 right now. Where is that happening? Now, for those of us living in communities, we probably have that knowledge without having to have a CDC team come and map it. And we shouldn’t wait until we have COVID-19 increasing in our communities. We should use the knowledge that we have. Don’t gather in large groups where there’s no physical distancing and no wearing of masks, because those are the areas — that’s the setting in which COVID-19 spreads very, very rapidly.
… with the protests at the capitol and elsewhere?
Dr. Smith [30:13]:
I think any gathering that meets those criteria — you get close, you’re breathing each other’s air, no masks — the virus doesn’t matter what the purpose of the meeting is. On the other hand, if people gather and they maintain physical distancing and they’re wearing masks, we’ve seen in many settings that that that the spread of COVID-19 in those settings is limited or non-existent.
You touched on this yesterday, but is there anything enforcement-wise that your administration would consider ahead of President Trump rally in Tulsa to ensure that any Arkansans we’re traveling there do quarantine when they return — or any Oklahomans who may be traveling to our area afterwards — follow those guidelines?
Governor Hutchinson [31:20]:
Well, let’s wait and see. This is a real test as to how the rally is conducted. From what I’ve seen they’re trying to follow CDC guidelines, screening. And I hope the mask-wearing and the social distancing is a part of that rally. And to me, that’s a very important part, in terms of the public health. What I’ve said is that if an Arkansan — I’m sure there’ll be many Arkansans that will go over for that rally — that if there is not appropriate social distancing, wear a mask. And if you don’t do that, then I hope that you will have a test when you come back, because we don’t want you know that to contribute to the other challenges that we face in the state.
As you probably know, Kansas has put Arkansas on its quarantine list. What are your thoughts on this and you think other states will follow suit?
Governor Hutchinson [32:28]:
I actually thought it was a little odd. I looked today over lunch at comparing our cases with Kansas. And there’s really not a great deal of difference in the number of cases that that each state has. But regardless, you know that’s the decision that the governor made. And I don’t see it having a great impact on Arkansas. Obviously, people from New York and all over the country can travel here. They’re coming to our great state parks and I guess we’ll miss a few Kansans that might not be able to come here because of that.
There’s a survey taken by Harvard University around the country that shows indicates support for vote-by-mail in Arkansas. And we now have models that suggest a huge rate of infection at the end of September, that Dr. Patterson’s been addressing because it’s such a high number of people in the hospital. So, given that information and the fact that it takes a while to prepare, are you at all amenable to changing your stance on no-excuse mail-in ballots in the general election?
Governor Hutchinson [34:56]:
Let me be clear on the distinctions in terminology.
You have your vote-by-mail, which has not been embraced in Arkansas through a legislative standpoint.
But in terms of no-excuse absentee voting, that is something that we utilized in the special elections and certainly is something that we ought to consider for November. If we still have the pandemic then that’s a health precaution. It allows voting in different ways, but it also has security measures in place that the legislature has established for identity of a person who will vote absentee. And so voting absentee is different than simply a vote-by-mail protocol. And I’m waiting to hear from our county clerks as to whether they’re requesting action on my part and the State Board of Election Commissioners as to what relief they need as we prepare and look at a November election. They gave me counsel. They gave suggestions as to how we should do the special elections, so I’m anxious to hear from them as to what measures they think need to be taken.
Jay Bir [36:21]:
Yesterday, Dr. Cam Patterson [Chancellor of UAMS], testifying over there at Big MAC, said their modeling had potential for end of September / end of October at fifty times what we’re currently sitting at in terms of hospitalizations, cases, all of that. What’s your reaction to hearing that potential?
Governor Hutchinson [36:42]:
Well, of course, I’ve looked at that. I get that report every week. The modeling is a mathematical equation based upon certain criteria. We want to change the facts that go into that, which is the contact tracing, the isolation, the work that we’re doing day in and day out. And so, with that, I expect to beat that modeling projection, but you also prepare for a worst-case scenario in the event that that would happen. And one thing we know is that this virus is unpredictable. I’m not going to try to predict what it’s going to be like in October, but prepare for any circumstance.
Dr. Smith [37:38]:
I really do appreciate the predictive models that have been out there, both the ones that have been generated within our state and the ones that others have done outside of our state.
This pandemic, though, has proven to be very, very challenging to model mathematically. And there’s been a lot of twists and turns. We’ve had, here in Arkansas, really more ups and downs, driven more by local clusters and regional upticks, rather than the type of uniform growth that a mathematical model would predict. So, we’ll keep looking at those models. But with COVID-19, especially, we need to look at our data and see what’s happening and what we’re doing about it. And that’s probably — will guide us more accurately than trying to project out weeks or months ahead.
On May 26, Governor Hutchinson presented two models from the UAMS College of Public Health. The first was a model from March 25 where the projections for total cases exceeded reality. The second was an updated model that projected about 8,000 cases by about June 14. In reality, Arkansas passed 8,000 cases 11 days earlier than the model’s projection.
So, the model overestimated the number at first. Then, after it got more data, it underestimated the number. Now, the current published model would have about 25 more days of data. Something to follow.
I want to go back to the to the answer about the rally and put that in the context of any other congregate setting. So, not just the rally. And if I heard you right, you said you hope that if Arkansas went there and found people not social distancing that they would wear masks. But if I go back to what Dr. Smith said, that I wear a mask for you, you were a mask for me, I’m not sure I’m clear about how wearing a mask in a congregate setting without social distancing helps protect Arkansans.
Governor Hutchinson [39:15]
Well, it does. If everybody is wearing a mask then you’re going to avoid the spread of COVID. And so, that’s one of the things in our recommendations — our guidelines — that we presented today, that if you can go outside and you can stay physically six feet apart from someone, then there’s not a requirement that you wear a mask. But if you have to get within that six feet, then you need to wear a mask. And if there’s any doubt, wear a mask — face covering. But to me there’s — if you have a larger gathering, you ideally would do both, but at a minimum you would do the do the face coverings if you cannot physically distance.
Dr. Smith [40:17]:
It really depends on how it’s laid out. If people are able to maintain six-foot distance and there’s good air circulation, then wearing a mask would be optional. It would add relatively little to the protection against COVID-19 transmission. However, when you get into large groups like that, oftentimes it is difficult to maintain a consistent six-foot distancing, an it would be wise to add to that by wearing a mask as well. Again, the masks are primarily for source control. My mask protects you. Your mask protects me. There is some emerging evidence, though, that there is some level protection — certainly not a hundred percent — for the wearer as well, so that’s an added bonus. But if I were going to go to go to a large gathering where I wasn’t absolutely sure that we are going to be able to maintain that six-foot distancing, good air circulation, etc., I would go ahead and wear a mask.
Will there be an impact on the reopening of schools in the fall, if the state’s public health emergency is extended again?
Governor Hutchinson [41:38]:
Well of course, the public health emergency will very likely extend into the fall, even though we extended it 60 days now, which takes us I think into August, it very likely, under the current circumstances and projections, will extend in the fall. But just like you work during the pandemic, you go to school during the pandemic. So, I don’t see that as an impediment to having school this fall.