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Summary of Governor Hutchinson’s March 23 Press Conference
AR
03/24/2020 10:21 AM

There are now 197 COVID-19 cases in Arkansas. Yesterday, the state reported 165. Yesterday, the state really addressed the nursing home and long-term care facilities.

Regarding N95 masks and gowns for medical care centers, Gov. Hutchinson said he is pleased to say that procurement has an order for 2 million pieces, some of which will arrive late this week. Also, more equipment is coming from the national strategic stockpile.

The Governor said that he expects a $160 million reduction in state revenue for the remainder of the fiscal year. He spoke with Senate President Jim Hendren and Speaker Matthew Shepherd. Working with the legislative leaders, he has three announcements:

  • Individual taxpayers’ filings and payments are moved to July 15.
  • Corporate taxpayers and estimated payments are due at normal dates.
  • House and Senate leadership have expressed support for these changes.

This change will move revenue and create a larger budget gap this year. Arkansas cannot print money and must balance the budget every year, which has to be done by June 30. Overall, they estimate there will be a $353 million shortfall.

  • Secretary Walther will revise the budget downward by $353 million.
  • They will need a Special Session to fill the holes in the budget. It will need to be soon, and the Governor is working with legislative leadership on a time frame.

When the revenue forecast is lowered, it impacts every state agency. The state will have to use $173 million in reserves from last year, while will be used to make sure that the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and welfare are able to continue functioning.

Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of Health

He said that there is a state map on the Arkansas Department of Health website showing locations of positive cases, which will be updated four times a day.

The map currently shows zero cases recovered, but there are 5 recoveries that meet the criteria.

Nine new case today is the smallest increase because they focused on the nursing homes. There was only one new case from the three nursing homes. They will complete testing all residents and staff in the nursing homes very quickly.

Among the 197 positive cases, 10 are under 18 years of age, 101 are ages 19 to 64, and 63 are age 65 and over. 60% are female, 40% are male, 70% are Caucasian and 20% are African-American.

Currently, 9 patients are in the hospital and 6 are on ventilators. They’ve had a total of 22 hospitalized at some point with 14 on ventilators at some time. The nursing home total is 38 at any time.

Today, the state has issued a directive to close hair salons, barbers, nail salons, tattoo shops, etc. In Q&A, Dr. Smith said this will go into effect tomorrow and is designed to eliminate person-to-person contact. This should not impact retail sales.

The state has little evidence to show that the malaria medication, hydrochloroquine, has helped, and the medication can cause interactions with other medications. The FDA’s approval is related to other health cases, not the COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Greg Bledsoe, Arkansas Surgeon General

He’s been inundated by calls about the need for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).

In addition to state purchases, he’s working with private suppliers. However, he’s losing purchases to other states.

He wants healthcare workers to know they know these are needed and they are working.

Dr. Bledsoe works in an Emergency Room and has been told they have a little PPE, but it won’t last long.

Q&A

Revenue estimates are $160 million from lost business and the $353 million includes $190 million from the extension of the tax filing deadline. No layoffs are planned. The various State Agency Secretaries were just notified today, and they are looking at their budgets. Travel and other expenses are down. It’s hard to say where cuts will come from. That’s why they have the unallocated surplus.

Larry Walther from ADFA said that the categories of RSA, B & C will be cut immediately. Then about $215 million will be reduced from Category A, which will be distributed evenly. Then they’ll work with agencies about holes that need to be filled with surplus money. They would like to carry some funds forward but want to make everyone whole. Available money is: $150 million in reserves, $173 million in carryover reserve and $43 million in restricted reserve

The 2021 budget will be rolled out in the Special Session. The state is currently collecting money in March from February. So, they will see the real impact in the last quarter of this fiscal year.

The state decided to move the filing deadline for individuals to July 15 after discussing other options. They wanted to provide relief to individual taxpayers and eliminate as much confusion as possible. They also chose to not extend for all filers to help manage the budget and focus help on those in greatest need.

A Special Session is needed to get the budget updated.

The 2 million PPE units are ordered from overseas. They have a contract and hopefully it will not be taken away. This is the state’s action. The federal stockpile is separate, and they are now getting more than the 25% of their original ask. The Arkansas Department of Health should be able to manage that.

Asked if they know where a percentage of positive tests are coming from. Dr. Smith said because of the time when the tests come in, they can’t investigate as deeply as they’d like. They are assuming they have community transmission in Little Rock and likely in other places.

Dr. Smith said that, in theory if no one left home, since 14 days is the estimated incubation period, they would see a resolution to transmission. But it’s not possible to accomplish this. For a shelter in place to work, it would have to be done for more than 14 days.

The Governor elaborated that even in places where “in their home” orders have been implemented, there are essential services going on. So there’s no such thing as a national shutdown. We are taking good steps in Arkansas. The Governor said that he appreciates the social distancing in businesses and screening. We need individuals to follow the guidelines

The barber shop and salons etc. directive will go out today and will go into effect tomorrow. Regarding sale of products, they want to eliminate person-to-person contacts.

Regarding the PPE requests from the federal stockpile, originally they were getting 25% of what they requested. Now they are going to get another 25%, so they will get half of what they asked for.

To see the entirety of today’s press conference, click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjV5vmtEWS0

 
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