Ark. schools to be online only for remainder of semester as cases top 870, with 16 deaths

As of Monday, April 6, 107 people in Arkansas have recovered from the virus.

FULL BRIEFING: Gov. Hutchinson and ADH COVID-19 update - 4/5

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that he is pleased with what the state is doing to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While the spread is slowing, Hutchinson announced that the remainder of the school semester will be in online form only. No schools will allow kids to be back in the building for the remainder of the semester.

Johnny Key, Arkansas Department of Education announced that AMI and public education will continue on-air education until May 1. Key says this will allow schools the time to come up with AMI delivery for the remainder of the semester.

School districts can continue meal distribution services as long as they follow ADH and CDC guidelines.

Key asked everyone to “be flexible, our schools and educators can not replicate the school experience when children are at home. It is impossible to expect the typical day schedule when students are working from home."

Key expects districts to focus on core subjects; math, literacy, science, and social studies.

Seniors in good standing will graduate but are still expected to continue their work. AP students will be able to take their tests online.

As for grades, the ACT Aspire test has been canceled, and the schools will have to adjust going into the next school year.

Arkansas will also send 5 ventilators to the state of Louisiana to help in their fight. Arkansas has just short of 800 ventilators and 500-550 available.

CEO of Arkansas Community Foundation and the state have partnered to create a community relief fund to help people impacted by COVID-19. As of Sunday, over $2 million has been pledged to the fund.

Larkin said the money will be given to non-profits and that the group’s 28 offices around the state will work on the project.

People can learn more about the fund by going here.

Two nursing homes in Region 8 have a positive COVID-19 test, Greene Acres in Paragould, and the Walnut Ridge Nursing & Rehab Center in Lawrence County.

A patient Tuesday, passed away at the White River Medical Center.

White River Health System (WRHS) announced today the first Coronavirus-related death of one of its patients. A confirmed Coronavirus patient admitted to White River Medical Center (WRMC) passed away according to Doug Bernard, MD, WRHS Chief Medical Officer. “Unfortunately, despite their extraordinary efforts, our healthcare team was unable to save this patient.”
White River Health System

Two nursing homes in Region 8 have a positive COVID-19 test, Greene Acres in Paragould, and the Walnut Ridge Nursing & Rehab Center in Lawrence County.

The ADH does not release the exact locations of the positive tests.

Arkansas has tested over 9,000 samples as of Friday, and 7% have been positive, and 83% have been negative.

The governor announced Friday, the state is 400 cases below expectations. The governor praised Arkansans for their help in flattening the curve.

Hutchinson said, “It’s data and science that guide our decisions.”

Dr. Nate Smith says “There’s political pressure to do what everyone else is doing, but Arkansas needs health care workers, and we need grocery stores. Do we flatten the curve more with an order? We already have. Do stay-at-home orders work? Not necessarily for a state like ours.”

Hutchinson said "If issued a stay-at-home order, 700,000 Arkansans would get up and go to work because they are considered “essential.” People would still go to the store because that’s deemed essential. Doing so would put “a couple 100,000 out of work.”

Demographic breakdown:

  • 74 - patients are in the hospital
  • 22 - on ventilators
  • 59 - people in a nursing home
  • 13 - Nursing homes with a patient or worker testing positive
  • 59% - women
  • 41% - men
  • 122 - healthcare workers
  • Age Breakdown:
    • 2.3% children
    • 6.7% ages 18-24
    • 30.3% ages 25-44
    • 34.9% ages 45-64
    • 25.7% ages 65+
    • 31.6% w/underlying health conditions

The Governor announced the state would be spending $45 million from the COVID-19 fund the Arkansas legislature set up to go towards purchasing more PPE. The governor said they would purchase ventilators as soon as they get on the marketplace.

Hutchinson said he spoke with a supplier and said his demand is 64% more than their production. He says they are competing with other states for suppliers. “It’s a seller’s market for medical gear,” Hutchinson said.

Under the CARES Act, states will get money for needs, and the governor has signed an executive order creating a 15-person committee to use that federal money. The governor believes the state of Arkansas could receive $1.25 billion in federal funds.

The Governor also rolled out a new initiative geared toward rural hospitals. It will keep the doors of Arkansas health care providers open and employees employed. Hutchinson said, “the plan will be in effect during an emergency but will have lasting benefits.”

The estimated cost of the proposal related to COVID-19 is $116,300,000.

Almost $91 million would come from the federal government under a Medicaid waiver. The state would kick in the additional $25 million. Arkansas is asking Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today for approval, Gov. Hutchinson said in a media release.

The proposal also pays $1,000 a month for nurses and $2,000 per month for those nurses with confirmed COVID-19 patients.

The proposal will also help rural hospitals and healthcare facilities with 65 beds or less. Some of the money will be used for expanding isolation for COVID-19 patients and adding more beds where necessary. Hutchinson said the payments will be a little disproportionate to facilities with a higher number of COVID-19 patients.

Additional money allocated to rural hospitals will help them build temporary screening facilities, drive-thru testing, direct care workers (nursing homes), homeless programs, and also an extra payment to foster families.

UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said officials have received help in getting much needed medical equipment. As of Thursday, the state has three million N95 masks, four million surgical masks, four million gowns, 2.1 million face shields, and seven million gloves to help medical workers treat people impacted by the virus.

On Wednesday, Gov. Hutchinson created a directive, saying individuals must abide by the 10 people or less guideline in a gathering. A directive does have the power of law and the authority for people to disperse if something is seen.

He also said he did not want to create a “Shelter in Place” environment statewide or around the state.

State health officials are also working to accelerate the licensing process for nurses and medical personnel in the state to help with the issue.

Arkansas Veterans Affairs Secretary Col. Nate Todd said his office has been working with area medical centers and that the VA has testing capabilities for COVID-19.

The ADH also released a new interactive map tracking the spread of the coronavirus throughout the state, with an up-to-date tally of tests, recoveries, and, when they occur, deaths. To view it click here.

Missouri

Economy

As for travel, Gov. Hutchinson also issued an executive order dealing with temporarily banning out of state travelers from staying at hotel, motel or short term rental places in the state.

“Commercial lodgings and short-term rentals, including, but not limited to hotels, motels and vacation rentals, shall only permit occupancy for the following authorized guests - healthcare professionals, first responders, law enforcement, State or Federal employees on official business, National Guard members on active duty, airline crew members, patients of hospitals and their families, journalists, persons unable to return to their home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Arkansas citizens unable to return to their home due to exigent circumstances, such as fire, flood, tornado or other disaster, persons in need of shelter due to domestic violence or homelessness, employees of hotels, motels or other service providers/contractors of a hotel or motel; and persons away from their home due to work or work-related travel,” the executive order noted.

There are exemptions to the rule, including healthcare workers, first responders, the military and law enforcement,

The governor said the executive order would help reduce travel from out of state into Arkansas.

The state has also seen a 40% decrease in travel patterns since the COVID-19 emergency began, Gov. Hutchinson said.

Gov. Hutchinson said the state is likely to see nearly 100,000 layoffs due to the COVID-19 emergency and that the fund will provide an opportunity for Arkansans to help one another.

Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said, “We went from processing 1,000 a week and now upwards of 30,000 and it’s putting a strain on our system.”

State officials are working to process claims as quickly as possible, noting both federal and state unemployment aid is available and officials are working to help businesses as well.

Preston said they’re waiting for federal guidance on the pandemic unemployment compensation that is supposed to help independent contractors. He urges patience until they get guidance.

Preston also announced that the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has created a website to help businesses impacted by COVID-19.

The website lists resources including disaster loan application overviews, loan information, tax relief, and information about $12 million in block grant funding for local governments to provide loans to companies impacted and grants to clinics, hospitals, and non-profits

The Arkansas economy is also taking a huge hit, as a result of layoffs the state expects a $353 million shortfall between now and the end of the budget year, which is June 30.

As a result of layoffs, the state expects a $160 million reduction in revenue.

“We’re not the federal government, we can’t print money,” Gov. Hutchinson said on the shortfall over the next 3 months, in part due to pushing back the tax filing date.

Hutchinson said this is the “calm before the storm.”

He said the state and nation have not seen “this kind of economic downturn” before.

The Arkansas tax return deadline is now July 15. Corporate filers must still file their returns by April 15.

Education:

While the spread is slowing, Hutchinson announced that the remainder of the school semester will be in online form only. No schools will allow kids to be back in the building for the remainder of the semester.

Johnny Key, Arkansas Department of Education announced that AMI and public education will continue on-air education until May 1. Key says this will allow schools the time to come up with AMI delivery for the remainder of the semester.

School districts can continue meal distribution services as long as they follow ADH and CDC guidelines.

Key asked everyone to “be flexible, our schools and educators can not replicate the school experience when children are at home. It is impossible to expect the typical day schedule when students are working from home."

Key expects districts to focus on core subjects; math, literacy, science, and social studies.

Seniors in good standing will graduate but are still expected to continue their work. AP students will be able to take their tests online.

As for grades, the ACT Aspire test has been canceled, and the schools will have to adjust going into the next school year.

Attorney General/Price gouging:

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says the AG’s office is committing $3 million for the Quick Action Response Loan program to help small businesses.

The $3 million is coming from the Revenue Stabilization Fund, not from taxpayers.

AG Rutledge also said on Friday that 500 complaints of price gouging related to COVID-19 had been reported to her office. She says there are currently 25 active and ongoing investigations.

These new complaints come from either masks being sold at a higher price or small stores changing prices.

Rutledge urges people to not post a gouging joke on social media, and if you do it, it will result in a call or visit from her office.

Rutledge says hospitals and clinics are still being “price-gouged” for some items, like masks, gowns, etc. UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson says this helps them cut out the “shady characters.”

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

Testing Info:

As of April 3, the state has tested over 9,000 samples for COVID-19.

The ADH does not collect specimens for testing. Only your health care provider can decide if testing is needed and collect the needed specimens.

At this time, the ADH Public Health Lab is only performing tests for Arkansans with possible high-risk exposure to COVID-19. However, health care providers have access to testing through other labs.

For more details on testing, click here.

“We are being very aggressive in this and we hope to limit the pain we are all dealing with,” said Hutchinson. “Should we be afraid? No. We will have to make changes in the short-term but we have many people working on it,” said Hutchinson.

“This is a serious situation,” Dr. Smith added. "We have to make dramatic changes to our lives.”

While the number of screenings is increasing rapidly, UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said the system is “under stress.” And the pressure is being felt at hospitals across the state.

Day by day breakdown:

  • 3/11: 1 case
  • 3/12: 6 cases
  • 3/13: 9 cases (Also the first instance of community spread)
  • 3/14: 12 cases
  • 3/15: 16 cases
  • 3/16: 22 cases
  • 3/17: 22 cases
  • 3/18: 37 cases
  • 3/19: 62 cases
  • 3/20: 100 cases (Three nursing homes affected)
  • 3/21: 118 cases
  • 3/22: 165 cases
  • 3/23: 197 cases
  • 3/24: 232 cases (1st and 2nd death reported in the state)
  • 3/25: 301 cases
  • 3/26: 349 cases (3rd death reported)
  • 3/27: 381 cases
  • 3/28: 404 cases (4th & 5th death reported)
  • 3/29: 426 (6th death reported)
  • 3/30: 508 cases (7th death reported)
  • 3/31: 523 cases (8th death reported)
  • 4/1: 624 cases (9th & 10th death reported)
  • 4/2: 683 cases (11th and 12th deaths reported)
  • 4/3: 738 cases
  • 4/4: 743 cases (13th and 14th deaths reported)
  • 4/5: 853 cases (15th and 16th deaths reported)
  • 4/6 - 875 cases (Announces schools will be online only for the remainder of the semester)

More details on Arkansas programs:

The governor admitted that “we may lose some businesses during this. Hopefully for only a short time, and hopefully they come back."

Hutchinson announced the state has allocated $12 million in community development block grant funds to support relief and recovery efforts to companies and nonprofits.

The state has also allocated $4 million of the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund to help companies make payroll and stay in operation.

“Arkansas and the nation are enduring a jolt to the economy and a huge loss of revenue. The state cannot cover every loss of business, but we can help with bridge loans to assist companies, nonprofits and child-care-voucher providers whether this slowdown and retain workers during this national emergency,” Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement.

Since the COVID crisis began, Gov. Hutchinson said 803 childcare providers have closed throughout the state, creating a hardship for working families.

“We will provide incentives to keep those services open,” he said.

The state will also increase reimbursement for child-care voucher providers who take care of children who receive federal child care assistance that remain open through March 27, Hutchinson said.

DHS will also suspend the renewal process for child care vouchers for 30 days, while the state agency will expedite the process as well as temporarily relax limits on the capacity for providers, Hutchinson said, noting nearly 800 child care providers in the state have closed.

On Tuesday, Hutchinson directed the state’s commerce department to make unemployment benefits “immediately available."

At that time Commerce Secretary Preston urged residents to file for unemployment benefits online by visiting this website: https://www.dws.arkansas.gov/unemployment/ezarc/

Also, the work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has been suspended through the end of April while DHS will be moving to expedite decisions about the eligibility of people under SNAP who have lost income because of COVID-19, officials said.

See the latest press conference here:

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state officials are giving an update on COVID-19 in Arkansas

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state officials are giving an update on COVID-19 in Arkansas (4-2-20).

Posted by Region 8 News on Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The governor has declared a public health emergency.

The Arkansas Department of Health is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 daily.

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