Gov. on NEA: “You’ve got contrarians. I hope you have leaders who will say this is important to our hospitals.”

Dr. Jose Romero said people are not adhering to the mask mandate well enough.
Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:17 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - Governor Hutchinson announced Tuesday that he had close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID, and called out Northeast Arkansas for their continued growth of new COVID cases.

Governor Hutchinson announced that Friday, Oct. 16, he was in a meeting with someone who later tested positive with COVID-19. Hutchinson said he was notified on Monday and has since tested negative twice for COVID-19.

Hutchinson said he has decided to limit his in-person meetings. “Going virtual is a matter of a comfort level for people I’m around. I don’t want people meeting with me who may feel uncomfortable,” Hutchinson said.

“Since the pandemic began, we had a short period of time where our office was closed as everyone worked remotely. But for more than six months, we’ve been doing regular business here in the Governor’s Office as a necessity to lead during this pandemic. We have regularly conducted our meetings with social distancing and mask-wearing as needed. In one meeting I had last Friday in the Governor’s Conference Room, there was an individual in the meeting that later tested positive for COVID-19. Even though I remained over six feet away from the individual tested, as a precaution, I had a COVID-19 test early Monday morning, an antigen test that was negative, followed by a PCR test that was also negative. While the meeting did not rise to the level of CDC quarantine guidance, out of concern for the comfort level of others in meetings, I will be limiting my public appearances.”

The White River Health System in Batesville, has been very transparent with the amount of room they have in their facilities for COVID-19 patients.

“The number of positive cases and hospitalizations at White River Medical Center are stable. At this time, we have the staff and bed capacity needed to care for patients. We report bed capacity, medical equipment and supply inventory, staff availability, and other required information daily to state and federal agencies monitoring the pandemic. We are working closely with other hospitals to ensure hospitals have what they need to care for patients. Our employees are doing a great job of caring for patients and each other during long hours and, at times, under difficult circumstances.”

#CovidUpdate 10.20.2020

Posted by White River Health System on Tuesday, October 20, 2020

We are about 75% of our normal licensed bed occupancy as of this morning. As we’ve discussed over the last few months, we continue to be prepared for an increase in patients. We continue to identify ways to increase space, staffing, and supplies as patient needs increase across our community. We continue to purchase PPE, drug supply, and negative air pressure units. Our teams are able to step into a number of roles and tasks based on their previous experience and recent training that has helped them prepare for any surge of patients in our region. And our medical campus has enough flexible space that we are able to utilize it in a number of different ways based on volume and patient acuity, which as we know, changes each day. With the current level of COVID positive patients and available staff, we feel confident in our ability to continue to provide compassionate, high-quality care at NEA Baptist.

The Governor announced the overall numbers for the day and then announced that Northeast Arkansas had moved past the Northwest region in new cases for the first time since the pandemic began.

Hutchinson was asked by Region 8 News, that after weeks of reporting the rising cases in NEA, what was the Governor’s plan to actually get people to wear masks, and stop the increase in the area.

Hutchinson replied back, "What is NEA going to do? “You’ve got contrarians. I hope you have leaders who will say this is important to our hospitals.”

The Governor then said that hospitals here were “tight,” in Northeast Arkansas.

St. Bernards has recently seen a steady increase in the number of COVID-positive patients admitted to St. Bernards Medical Center. Because these individuals require isolated care, the hospital has adjusted its capacity upward to care for these individuals. As a hospital licensed for 440 beds, however, St. Bernards Medical Center has not reached capacity, continually seeing volumes less than 80-percent. In addition, the hospital’s COVID-19 surge plan allows it to double current COVID-19 isolation care. Should regional hospitalizations rise, St. Bernards will scale its capabilities, starting with St. Bernards Medical Center before partnering with affiliate healthcare facilities for additional capacity.

Ten Northeast Arkansas counties, including Craighead and Greene, are in the “red zone” for new COVID-19 cases, according to a White House Coronavirus Task Force report obtained by ABC News.

Craighead has the dual distinction of being one of three counties in the last three weeks with the highest number of cases, following Pulaski and Washington. The three counties combined represent 24.9% of all new cases in the state.

The White House task force also has designated the towns of Jonesboro, Paragould, Blytheville, and Mountain Home as metro red zones. The only other city on that list is Texarkana.

Region 8 News contacted the City of Jonesboro who told us the mayor’s office, sheriff, judge, police and fire chiefs have all worked alongside the Governor’s office to remind and refresh everyone on where the area is with COVID.

Director of Communications for the City of Jonesboro, Bill Campbell said he wanted to remind people of ADH’s mask mandate that is in effect in stores and restaurants, and that penalties could be assessed if not in compliance.

Campbell said, “Only ADH has the authority to enforce the mask mandate. JPD can break up large gatherings when they see them, but if the governor’s directives are not being followed by a store or restaurant, we call ADH.”

Campbell mentioned that the Mayor himself is at risk, with his immune system fragile as he takes chemotherapy. Campbell said Perrin is being abundantly careful right now and staying away from others to not compromise his health.

Region 8 News reached out to Mayor Barbara Lewallen of Trumann for her city’s response to the virus.

“There’s no real penalty in Trumann. Businesses do have the right to make people leave if they refuse to wear a mask. We haven’t seen many issues- most people have been wearing masks. It is up to the business to enforce it,” Mayor Lewallen said.

We asked Mayor Lewallen if there is anything the state could do to help.

“There’s no real penalty in Trumann. Businesses do have the right to make people leave if they refuse to wear a mask. We haven’t seen many issues- most people have been wearing masks. It is up to the business to enforce it,” Mayor Lewallen said.

Governor Hutchinson announced there were 628 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 216 probable positives in Arkansas.

The state’s hospitalizations were up 24 to a new record of 637, with 14 more people dying, raising the death toll to 1,576.

Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd announced Tuesday that Pre-Session Budget Hearings and all other legislative meetings previously scheduled for the remainder of the week were postponed.

In a release, House and Senate leaders agreed to postpone meetings upon learning that three legislators tested positive for COVID-19.

Rep. Michelle Gray and Rep. Stu Smith individually informed Speaker Shepherd that each has tested positive for COVID-19.

Additionally, Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren announced that Sen. Terry Rice has also tested positive.

Speaker Shepherd released the following statement:

“Rep. Gray and Rep. Smith informed me they are doing well. I wish them all a speedy recovery. Leadership and staff are consulting with the Arkansas Department of Health in regards to contact tracing. I am confident, even with this short break, that we can still accomplish the work required in advance of the 2021 Regular Session.”

Johnny Key, Education Secretary, also pointed out that 16 school districts have actively modified their school schedules due to COVID-19 issues.

Tuesday was the Governor’s 153 time to address the pandemic and its effects in Arkansas.

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