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The original item was published from 3/17/2020 2:32:22 PM to 3/27/2020 10:05:58 AM.

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Posted on: March 17, 2020

[ARCHIVED] Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials discuss coronavirus response in West Memphis

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials discuss coronavirus response in east Arkansas

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials discuss coronavirus response in east Arkansas

By Region 8 Newsdesk | March 17, 2020

While acknowledging there have been no new positive cases of COVID-19 in the state since his Monday morning news conference in Fayetteville, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that Arkansans will “have to adjust to this new normal.”

The governor made the comment while speaking at Arkansas State University Mid-South in West Memphis. He was flanked by several state and local officials, including Dr. Nate Smith, the secretary of the health department; and Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston.

As of March 17, 22 people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19. Two of those cases were out of Cleburne County. The others were located in the central Arkansas counties of Pulaski, Saline, Garland, and Jefferson.

Governor Hutchinson live press conference in West Memphis


After saying that was “very reassuring,” Hutchinson added that more testing needed to be done in order for them to be “confident” in the results.

Dr. Smith said Monday that the majority of the cases were “related to contact in a healthcare setting.” The other two, he said, were connected to an out-of-state conference.

“This will go on for some time,” Hutchinson said. “We are going to follow CDC guidelines. If we need to close for an extended time, the state will.”

To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the governor announced all of the state’s casinos would close effective Tuesday, March 17. He acknowledged the move would displace as many as 900 people in eastern Arkansas.

To assist those needing assistance, he said he had directed the state’s commerce department to make unemployment benefits “immediately available."

To expedite the procedure, Commerce Secretary Preston urged residents to file for unemployment benefits online by visiting this website:

On Sunday, Hutchinson announced that all schools in the Natural State will be closed starting Tuesday due to coronavirus.

Schools have been recommended with the option to close Monday, but it is up to individual districts to make that decision.

Schools will be closed through Spring Break around March 30 and should re-open after that. The decision does not apply to daycares in the state and officials said the Monday option was to give parents enough time to find other opportunities for child care.

“It’s important we get a handle on this,” the governor said. “The emphasis is to prepare to go back to class, and resume normal classroom activity after spring break consistent with CDC guidelines.”

Arkansas National Guard officials said Saturday that they have been requested by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management to provide 20 medics to answer and return phone calls in support of the Arkansas Department of Health’s Emergency Operation Center.

Officials will be doing a needs assessment on March 19 to decide if soldiers will be further needed.

Hutchinson said people should avoid panic or urgent buying at grocery stores, noting the supply chain will be available for people to have food and supplies.

“Everybody needs to understand that grocery stores will stay open,” Hutchinson said during Monday’s news conference. “There’s not any need for panic buying.”

He added that he has been in talks with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge who said the state’s price gouging law was in effect and covered various items, including water, soap and other supplies.

Rutledge said individuals suspected to be price gouging will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Hutchinson has also authorized 10 new positions of lab techs to help with testing at the Dept. of Health to be filled immediately. He is also allocating more resources to help with the call center backlog.

On Saturday, state health officials said they were working with federal officials to increase the number of tests from 20 to 160 a day, which should happen in about a week. Officials are working to get an increase in the number of testing machines.

With the increase, that should also increase the turnaround for information on test results to about six hours, officials said.

The governor assured citizens that government functions, including SNAP and Medicaid, would continue.

“Offices will be open,” he said. “Work continues to go on."

He admitted other business sectors, including tourism and entertainment venues, would “suffer" because more people would be staying home in the coming weeks.

“We’re prepared to deal with that,” Hutchinson said. Adding that he had directed the Department of Commerce to make unemployment benefits available sooner for those laid off.

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