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Arkansas is one of only five U.S. states without a stay-at-home order in place despite the coronavirus pandemic. Its number of confirmed COVID-19 cases passed 1,000 on Wednesday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his state’s “very targeted response” to the illness, why he thinks Arkansas residents are effectively social distancing already and the effort to secure more PPE.
For states across the country battling coronavirus, grim reminders of the pandemic's toll come every day.
In Arkansas, one of just five states with no stay-at-home order in place, the number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases crossed 1,000 today.
Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson joins me now from Little Rock.
Governor Hutchinson, thank you very much for joining us.
As we just said, over 1,000 confirmed cases today. How is — how are you doing? How is the state managing all this?
Governor Asa Hutchinson:
We're working hard.
And thanks, Judy, for the opportunity to talk about some of the things we're doing in Arkansas.
We have a very targeted response to this. We have closed schools. We have closed bars and restaurants, tattoo parlors, barber shops, hair salons, and down the list, a very targeted approach to it, in addition, enforcing social distancing.
And I have set the example of wearing masks whenever you can't social distance. We go in stores, probably three-fourths of people have masks on. And that's the kind of effort we're making in slowing the spread. And it's having success.
Yes, we went to over 1,000 cases today. But, as you can see, we — all the projections show that we're beating the projections, we're flattening that curve. And our hospitalization rate is one of the lowest, particularly in our region.
And so, whenever we're having this kind of success, we will measure to see what more we need to do. If we need to do more, we will. But, right now, we are pouring everything we have into this effort.
As we said, you are one of the handful of states that still has not issued a stay-at-home order to your residents of, what, three-some-million people.
Among others, Dr. Anthony Fauci of NIH has said he thinks all states should do that. We know a number of other experts have said that.
Why did you decide not to?
Well, Dr Fauci, since he made that statement, has talked to some of the governors that have not issued a shelter-in-place, and said, you're doing things that are complementary to what we need to be done.
He was very happy with the path. And he made that comment the other day nationally, whenever he was asked. I think they're starting to realize what we're doing is successful and supports that national effort.
You asked about a shelter-at-home. If we did that tomorrow, or I did it today in Arkansas, you always exempt essential services, which means that 700,000 Arkansans would get up tomorrow morning and go to work. They would go to the grocery store. They would go out for exercise, which is permitted in all the states.
As I have pointed out, in — Washington state has a shelter-in-place, but the marijuana shops are open. You can still go get your marijuana. So, the exemptions override the rule.
We want to do things that actually work and make a difference. And our social distancing, our wearing masks is what is working in Arkansas.
So, you don't think that by not requiring or ordering people to stay home, unless they have to be out, is not putting other people at risk?
I think that, as long as they do what they're supposed to do, which is social distance, wear a mask when you're out, this accomplishes the purpose, without doing something that really doesn't make a difference, which is acting like you're going to be doing something with a shelter-in-place, when, in fact, everybody can still go out.
People are using their own good judgment. The elderly are staying at home. If you're not needed to be out, they're not going out. And so — and we're doing enforcement efforts.
So, this idea that, just because you don't have a technical shelter-in-place order in place, that you're not doing enough, please look at the data, please look at what we're accomplishing, and we're doing as well or better than many of the neighbors that have those shelter-in-place orders in place.
And just very quickly, when a mayor of a — someone overseeing a local jurisdiction, as the mayor of Little Rock said they would like to go further where they are, you have said no.
Well, we want to have a statewide policy.
And I have given the mayors, the local jurisdictions authority for limited curfews, or — and to close certain city or county facilities that might be problematic, if people are not following the restrictions on public gatherings.
So, we have enforcement tools in place. We're working together. But it should be a statewide policy whenever we're impacting commerce.
Governor, are you getting what you need in order to treat the people who come down with the coronavirus in Arkansas?
Well, like I said, we have 80 hospitalizations.
We have over 8,000 — about 8,000 available beds. And we have eliminated our elective surgery. And so you can see that we have a lot of hospitals that are empty right now and health care workers that are empty.
But we have about 80 hospitalizations. We're watching it very closely. Our concern is the protective equipment for our health care workers. We have about exhausted the federal stockpile that came to us. And so we're on the market trying to bring it in.
The challenge is getting flights and cargo to deliver those supplies to us from places like China, where we're making the acquisition. So, we have invested $75 million in Arkansas to buy that protective equipment. We hope that arrives soon.
And, finally, your — those who are out of work, Arkansans who are out of work, small businesses that have had to close down temporarily, how confident are you that these folks are going to get the assistance that they need?
Well, I believe they will get the assistance.
The federal money is starting to flow. There will still be some delay, because once the federal paycheck hits the state, we have to actually build a system in order to deliver some of the proceeds from the paycheck protection act.
And we — so, we have got to do a lot of work there. The money for the unemployed is starting to flow. We have processed about 100 — over 100,000 claims to date. And they're starting to get those benefits.
So, the money is flowing. Some of that is going to be a little bit longer. And the money for the larger businesses to keep the employees working and on the payroll, that money is starting to be available through our banks as well.
Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, we wish you the very best with all of this.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Judy.
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