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Why Gov. Asa Hutchinson says reopening Arkansas isn’t to blame for rising COVID-19 cases

As states continue to lift pandemic restrictions and allow economic activity to resume, many are seeing new surges in coronavirus cases. Arkansas has documented more than 3,500 new positive tests since it began the second phase of its reopening. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson joins Judy Woodruff to discuss where the increase in cases is coming from and his thoughts on moving Confederate monuments.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As states continue to reopen their economies, a number are seeing new surges in coronavirus cases.

    In Arkansas, there have been more than 3,500 infections since they began phase two reopening just last week.

    Governor Asa Hutchinson is back on "NewsHour" for an update.

    Governor Hutchinson, welcome back. We thank you for joining us.

    So, this spike in cases, what do you attribute it to, and do you have any question that there's some connection to the reopening?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    We actually measure it every week, Judy, in terms of, the new cases that we have, are they related to the fact that we opened up, lifted some of the restrictions?

    And the answer is that we have not seen a correlation between lifting restrictions and the new cases that we have. The new cases actually are coming out of some of the essential industries that are open regardless. It is our food supply.

    And so that is what we are targeting in terms of our strategy. We have increased testing dramatically in Arkansas. This month, we are testing 4 percent of our population, over 120,000 tests, which is a dramatic increase, really doubling from last month.

    Whenever you look at our contact tracing, trying to break those transmissions of the virus within the community, and so that's the strategy. We have 75 counties in Arkansas. Today, 72 of them had an increase of less than 20 cases, but we had three counties that had a larger amount. And that's where our focus is.

    You have got to have two messages, keep your economy moving, keep it growing, but at the same time, this is a deadly virus you have got to take seriously, and you have to manage the risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You do have those outbreaks at the poultry plant in Northwest, Arkansas, also in prison facilities around the state.

    But I have also seen specialists quoted as saying — in the state of Arkansas, saying, they don't think it's connected just to more testing. And one in particular, an epidemiologist with the state's Health Department, said she had — she said it is probably connected to a loosening of restrictions.

    So, you are saying you disagree with that?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, I think that epidemiologist was misquoted.

    But I certainly agree that, whenever you see the increase in testing — excuse me — the increase in cases, it's more than just increasing the testing. That's part of it, but it is more than that.

    And we certainly acknowledge that we have an increase in concern in a couple of our counties in Northwest Arkansas. That's why we are devoting more resources to it. We are going to continue to do more testing, because you follow that up with isolating, quarantining, and trying to stop that transmission.

    And so, yes, we have had some outbreak, but we measure it as to whether it's related to those lifting of restrictions. There's not an indication of that. We will continue to monitor that. And if we need to make adjustments, we will.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, speaking of testing, I did watch your news conference this afternoon. And you mentioned problems with, I guess, some 90,000 testing kits that were sent to Arkansas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    How much does that set back the state's efforts to keep a record, to keep track of what is going on?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, I mean, any time you disrupt the supply chain with a faulty product, that's a problem.

    And we had not distributed that widely. We are trying to trace it down. But we can overcome that. But it is a gap in our supply chain. And here you have got many Southern states that have an upsurge in our number of cases, we're testing more, and so that puts a strain on the supply chain.

    And so our national message needs to be, let's continue that investment in testing. Let's make sure that we do our social distancing. Let's take this seriously. Do what you can from an individual discipline standpoint.

    And we have got to build the infrastructure for this fall. We don't know whether it's going to be another resurgence in the fall, or whether this is going to be a constant flow that — and the epidemiologists were cited both ways.

    So, we have to be prepared regardless and build that national infrastructure, because the need will continue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, Governor, we know the neighboring state of Oklahoma, President Trump had a big campaign rally there in Tulsa on Saturday night. It is understood that a number of Arkansans crossed the state line to go over to attend the rally.

    How much concern do you have about people coming back, because it was indoors and people were not required to wear masks?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, I would say that, if someone was socially distancing up on the third tier or the second tier by themselves, they're OK.

    But if you are in the middle of that crowd without a mask on, and you are from Arkansas, I hope that you will be tested when you come back. We certainly don't want any of the virus to be attributed to your attendance there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Have you put that word out in the state of Arkansas?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Actually, I have said that publicly.

    It's just common sense that I would want people, if I was going there, to socially distance, wear a mask. If you are not going to do that, engage in that disciplined behavior, then make sure you be responsible and have a test when you come back to make sure that are you not positive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Was it a mistake, do you think, for them not to require masks?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, it is my understanding that they expected people to either socially distance and follow the CDC guidelines.

    Any rally, any event like that in a public nature with a crowd of people needs to follow commonsense public health guidelines. That is obviously something that's important.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A different subject, Governor, and that is the focus on Confederate symbols across the country in recent days.

    I see that Arkansas has 34 Civil War properties. According to a report I was looking at, the vast majority of them represent the Confederacy. One particular symbol was taken down over the last few days. Should all of them come down, in your opinion?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, it all depends upon the local municipality, where it's located, where is the proper way to — place for that to be located.

    No one wants to erase history. We do want to learn from it. These are discussions that will be ongoing. We have had the city of Little Rock remove one Confederate statue. We hope that that will be moved to a location that is consistent with its history.

    There will be discussion about other venues as well. And so, in Arkansas, we did have protests. They were largely peaceful. And we have set up a task force to discuss the future of law enforcement with protest leaders, as well as the community and law enforcement all together.

    And I think that is going to produce some very good things for the future and build and strengthen harmony in our communities. And the discussion about some of these statues that are really reminiscent of an oppressive time for our African-American population has to be a part of that discussion as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, just very quickly, are you not weighing in with your view one way or another on whether those Confederate symbols should come down?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, I think there should be a discussion, and decisions made.

    I understand that — what that means to those that were oppressed, their ancestors, in that form of slavery. And that's what the Civil War was about. So, it's not a pleasant memory and a reminder for them.

    And it should be a lesson in history, not a haunting memory of history. And so there are some that should be moved, but those are many local decisions. The General Assembly will have to be a part of that discussion.

    So, to me, the priority should be that Arkansas needs a hate crime law. We're one of the four states that does not have that. That is something I'm pushing for. And I think that is a priority that will address real problems.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

    Governor, thank you.

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Thank you, Judy.

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