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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says ‘individual discipline’ key to reopening safely

Weeks of business closures and stay-at-home orders have left the American economy in shambles. Now, a majority of states are starting to lift restrictions and resume business -- even though COVID-19 cases and deaths nationwide continue to climb. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has a phased plan for reopening, and he joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he thinks this is the right time to implement it.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After weeks of businesses being shuttered and unemployment claims soaring, more than half of the states are now beginning to lift restrictions and reopen local economies.

    When President Trump was in Arizona earlier today, he responded to a question from ABC News about whether he accepts that more people could become sick and die as a result of the reopening.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's possible there will be some, because you won't be locked into an apartment or a house, or whatever it is.

    But, at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing. We're going to be washing hands. We're going to be doing a lot of the things that we have learned to do over the last period of time.

    And we have to get our country back. You know, people are dying the other way, too. When you look at what's happened with drugs, it goes up. When you look at suicides, I mean, take a look at what's going on. People are losing their jobs.

    We have to bring it back, and that's what we're doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson has laid out his plan for a phased reopening of houses of worship, gyms, restaurants, and other large gathering spaces.

    Governor Hutchinson joins me now.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour," Governor.

    So, yes, you have announced the opening of a number of places, hair salon, churches. We have talked about, in the next few days, dine-in restaurants, and, in the next week, places that are — places like massage parlors.

    Why do you think it's safe to do this?

  • Governor Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, Judy, it's good to be with you again.

    And I remember, the last time we were together, we were talking about the fact that Arkansas was not a shelter-in-place state. And, of course, we got a lot of criticism as to whether that was the right strategy.

    We targeted and put restrictions on many of our businesses, but we didn't shut everything down. And now that our cases are down, our trajectory is going in the right direction, we're starting to lift some of those restrictions.

    And, just like we did it differently before, now we're not doing it all at once. We're doing it a step at a time, and so we can measure very carefully as to whether you're being disciplined, whether our cases go up, whether our — we have any kind of a resurgence.

    And so we're being cautious about it. But our cases are down. Our trajectory is going in the right direction. We're doing our testing. We have contract — contact testing capability.

    And so I feel comfortable in lifting some of these restrictions now. The key is that we have to be individually disciplined to do the social discipline. And it's really hard out there whenever the sun is shining. We're cooped up. We want to get outside. But we have to discipline ourselves.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At the same time, Governor, you know the White House guidelines were that states were advised strongly to wait until you had 14 days of declining rates.

    You're not there yet in Arkansas.

  • Governor Asa Hutchinson:

    No, I disagree with that. We have had 14 days of declining caseload. The trajectory is down.

    In addition, one of the alternatives was the negative rate or the positivity rate on your testing, and ours is very, very low. And it's been trending down. So, we actually meet all of the criteria for entering phase one under the president's guidance.

    We want to be able to stay there and to continue that trajectory, so that, in another 14 days, we can go to phase two, and we can continue to open up and lift those restrictions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as you know, Governor, the groups that do these projections, forecasts about ill — the number of infections and the number of deaths, including the one — the most prominent one at the University of Washington, they have now, in the last day, upped their projection for illnesses for infections and deaths, based on the fact that states, like Arkansas, but a number of other states, are opening up.

    They're saying, people are going to be moving around, they're going to be touching places that other people are touching, and, inevitably, that is going to mean more infections.

    So, are you prepared for infections and, frankly, for deaths to go up?

  • Governor Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, it is a concern.

    And the University of Washington, even though they have missed their modeling significantly as they made projections for Arkansas and other states, it is still a good warning.

    And, certainly, it is a concern to us whenever you look at — we're relying upon individual, we're relying upon employers to do the right thing. I think they're being very, very genuine.

    We have got 60 processing plants in Arkansas. Thank goodness we don't have any that have shut down because of positive tests. But it's a concern. It's a risk. They have got to do the right thing every day.

    But the key is that, sure, we're going to have incidents of a positive test in a business or in some other activity. And we have got to be able to go in there. We have got to be able to do the tracing, know the sources of it, and expand that, and then be able to control it.

    And that's how you move through this pandemic and end it, but also be able to continue with an economy that is vital, and people need to work.

    So, I think we have — we're balancing it right. But the key, again, is that individual discipline. And not everybody is going to exercise that. And that is a worry.

    But I think we're — we're doing it the right way. And I think, as a nation, every state is different, and every state has got — is a different trajectory, a different peak time.

    And so the governors have a lot of discretion. We're exercising it here. And look at the statistics. We're — we're going in the right direction. I think we're one of 15 states that's moving down in our caseload.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, I want to ask you.

    One of the — I watched your news conference today. And one of the things you said, in the next couple of days, you expect there to be a spike in cases at Arkansas' correctional institutions. You talked about having state employees who work at these facilities. And you also mentioned nursing homes.

    People who have tested positive may still be expected to show up for work if they're asymptomatic, because, in the view of the state, it's more important that they take these jobs, that these jobs are filled, than that they stay away.

    Explain that reasoning.

  • Governor Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, let's look at the prison.

    In the prison system, we had an outbreak Cummins, a maximum security unit. And it was a large outbreak. And so — and some of the staff tested positive.

    But — so, we allowed some of the staff that ideally would be quarantined in their home to come back to work. And they would only be working with those inmates that tested positive.

    And so it's not going to be a spread issue. It's going to be fulfilling the need that was there. So, because it's a hard-to-fill job, because it's a very dangerous place to work, we needed those guards there.

    In a similar way, in some nursing homes, if a staff person tested positive, you put them in the right position, because you have to have people in there to care for these positive patients as well.

    And so you work for through that. It's not ideal, but you work through it. And that's how we have handled it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And very quickly, Governor, you said you were opening up restrictions on people coming from non-hot spots, if you will, around the country to be able to travel into Arkansas.

    But my question, quickly, is, how are you going to check that? Are you going to have checkpoints at the state border? Are you going to have people at airports? Just quickly, how does that work?

  • Governor Asa Hutchinson:

    No, we won't have those checkpoints.

    But, for example, those that come here and seek lodging, if they're from one of the hot spots, then they're required to quarantine for 14 days. That, in and of itself, probably will keep them moving, because no one wants to stay in the same hotel for 14 days.

    And so it's checked by our lodging industry, and it is measured there. And if there's a different hot spot that arises, then our Department of Health can make the changes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, thank you very much. Good to see you.

  • Governor Asa Hutchinson:

    Good to be with you.

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