Rolly Hoyt – KTHV 11, Andrew DeMillo – AP, Mike McNeil – MagnoliaReporter.com, Dr. Austin Porter – ADH, Sam Lynd – NEA Baptist, Jonesboro, Allie Lynch – 5News KFSM, Allison Wise – 40/29 News, Amanda Hansen – KAIT, Dr. Jose Romero, Neal Gladner, Leslie Peacock – Ark Times, Sec. Solomon Graves – ADC, Governor Asa Hutchinson, Dr. Jerrilyn Jones – UAMS, Andy Davis – ADG
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:14:12
Thank you for joining me today for today’s weekly COVID-19 update. I’m pleased to be joined by Dr. Jose Romero of the Department of Health Secretary Solomon Graves, our Department of Corrections. We have Secretary Johnny Key of our Department of Education. And we’re also joined by Dr. Jerrilyn Jones of the Department of Health and then Sam Lynd will be joining us remotely from Northeast Arkansas Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro for some interesting insights from Northeast Arkansas. Today, we’ll give an update on the vaccine distribution, hospital bed capacity, antigen testing in our Department of Corrections, and of course, we’ll give our case report followed by an announcement. Yesterday as everyone knows, we received our first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine at 8:10am. yesterday. We also had our first vaccination in the afternoon. And so Dr. Romero, thanks to your team for some very quick action in getting that out. And I was pleased that Sherian Kwanisai was the first Arkansan to receive the vaccine. And we appreciate her support and her setting that good example for all of Arkansas on Friday. And I get this question often we are when’s the next round coming in? On Friday, I expect to receive notice as to the next shipment on the Pfizer vaccine. And that will should indicate how many doses and the timeline for receipt of that vaccine. And that should be a recurring process that every Friday we’ll get noticed as to what the shipment will be the next week. And Dr. Romero will have additional comments on the FDA process in the future. Our goal is to get our healthcare workers, our emergency responders and the staff and residents of our long term care facilities vaccinated as soon as possible. And then we’ll move to additional priorities and on to the general public. And everyone wants to know the answer to the question, when will it get to me in terms of priorities, we know exactly where we are in terms of the first set of distribution. And there’ll be more decisions made as to how this flows into the future until it gets to the entire public. This is a massive distribution effort. It’s a lot of logistics. It worked well yesterday, but we have to make it work every day. Well, and we will get there Northeast, NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro was one of the first hospitals to receive their allotment of the vaccines. And I was proud of them as well. They began distributing the vaccine in the early afternoon, received in the morning distribute it in the early afternoon. And Sam Lynd and the CEO of a Baptist in Jonesboro is going to join us and make comments about the vaccine and the hospital bed capacity that they’re looking at in northeast Arkansas. Sam, please welcome you for your comments. Thank you,
Sam Lynd – NEA Baptist, Jonesboro 13:17:42
Governor, it’s good to be with you today. On behalf of everybody at NEA Baptists, we’re really proud of the last 24 hours. But the hospitals in northeast Arkansas and at NEA Baptist certainly remain busy and remain full. We have about 25% of in-patients today that continue to be COVID positive, our ICU units remain full. And for each one that we’re able to move out of the unit. There’s certainly one awaiting to be admitted. And so while we’re very excited about what the last 24 hour means for our foreseeable future, things remain difficult for hospitals across our state in our region as well. Trends that we’re seeing are certainly continuing to grow. So we’ve seen our positive rate in December roll over even what we’ve seen in November. As an example in September, we saw a positive rate of about 10%, in October, that moved to 14%, November 18%. And now in December projected well over 20% seeing days as high as the mid 30s. And so we continue to see the spread of the infection, and certainly welcome the resources that we’ve been given here in the last few weeks. And so I wanted to touch on two of those one as the Governor just mentioned, we were proud to receive our first batch of vaccine yesterday at 10am. And by 2:30, we had given our first dose to Dr. Stephen Straub, our infectious disease doctor who’s been battling on the front lines over the last several months. Following administration to Dr. Stroud, we also administered the vaccine to several other frontline workers, nurses in our ICU, COVID units in the ER, as well as respiratory therapists, several physicians, hospitals, internal medicine, and the like. And so we’re certainly proud of that, and excited that we were able to do 10 yesterday, and then today, planning to do at this afternoon, and then ramp that up to doing 100. And more of the next several days is we try to get those vaccines out to our staff as quickly as we as we possibly can. The other thing that we’re certainly proud about is our partnership with the State Department of Health and the Governor’s Office to be able to offer monoclonal antibodies as a treatment for our high risk patients, outpatient COVID patients that that can get some early intervention, and hopefully cut off hospitalization before they happen. And so we’ve been doing that over the last few weeks, we’ve designed a separate entrance for those patients, they’re escorted down a private entryway to a negative pressure infusion area where they receive that treatment and then exit the same direction keeping them separated from any other patients in our health system. That is certainly going well, we’ve done about 104 of those, we’re able to do about 16 to 20 a day. And we’ve seen none of those patients be hospitalized so far for COVID related reasons. And so we’re excited about the promise of both the vaccine and the antibody treatment, but certainly want to continue to remind people as the holidays approach as we wait, what was foreseen as a spike after the Thanksgiving holiday that we all pray never happens, we do need to continue to follow the CDC guidelines and recommendations that are better present today. This the masking the social distancing, as we prepare to receive more evidence that the vaccine and other treatments are effective, and that the trend in the infection spread is certainly going downward in our hospitals have more resources available to care for our truly sick patients COVID and otherwise. So we’re excited about what’s around the corner, we believe yesterday was a milestone and a turning point for our battle. Our staff are excited about what that means and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And so a lot of thanks to our team here at NEA Baptist but also obviously, a lot of help from our friends at Baptist Memorial health care, the State Department of Health and of course, the Governor’s Office. So thank you, Governor.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:21:47
Thank you, Sam. And as everyone can see, you know, the focus is making sure we maximize our hospital capacity and space. The monoclonal antibody treatment is one of those things that helps us Dr. Romero has emphasized this in previous weeks. And it’s great to see that being implemented, and that it is saving hospital space. And let’s go to the case report. Over the last 24 hours, we’ve had an additional 2141 and COVID-19 cases, that’s reflected by confirmed new cases of 1236 and probable cases of 905. And the 905 based upon antigen test is the largest number that we’ve had of probable cases since we started our antigen testing, which simply shows that people are comfortable with it, they’re going to it they like to have that rapid test and it’s producing helpful data for us. We’ve had in terms of our testing, we had over 12,000 tests that were done. So it was a good testing day. We’ve had our hospitalizations increased by 20, which has been up and down through this week. As you’ll see when we get to that chart, our ventilator uses increased by 10. And most regrettably, our deaths are plus 26 of Arkansans that have died as a result of COVID-19. Our heart aches for their families, and for all those that are touched by them. And so that’s a summary of the cases I don’t believe there’s anything new in the counties. It’s the usual top five, that seems to stay there. Let’s go because this gives us the opportunity to look at it from a graph standpoint. In trend line. You can see the seven day rolling average of confirmed and probable cases has been steady over the last really week or more. Not going down but steady and sometimes steady is helpful news, at least when it comes to our hospitalizations. Next. We’ll see, you can see the same thing here week over week. It’s almost dead even a little bit up in this last week, but it’s fairly flat. We hope this week brings us down a little bit. Time will tell. Next, we see the hospitalizations that is holding steady at about between 1000 and 1100. Next we can see the seven day rolling average of positivity, which is too high, and even though it shows a downward trend the last few days, when more results come in, that will kick up again. And so it’s just simply above the 10% right now. And that is the biggest challenge for Arkansans and alert to them that the community has COVID and there’s a high rate of positivity, hopefully we can get that down. This shows the massive amount of testing that we’re doing a halfway point in the month, we’ve tested 177,000 PCR tests. And the next one shows the antigen test at 36,000. And so just a PCR test, we’ll be issuing 350,000, most likely through the course of the month, even though it might slow down a little bit around Christmas. And so we’re testing at a very, very high rate, which allows us to identify, isolate, and that’s what we have to do. Next, this is by region. And there’s not anything particularly new here, then you can see the Northwest continues to be the high point in terms of the number of cases. And the trend line is not going up. It’s flat. You see the Central Arkansas, which is the yellow, that’s gone up a little bit. Central Arkansas is somewhat of a concern there with a number of cases and that trend line, the blue northeast, down a little bit. And then of course southeast Southwest, much lower level and fairly flat. There’s a couple of other things I wanted to add. This illustrates between December 6 and December 12, the increase in confirmed and probable COVID cases by age group. Now, what we always have to remember is that 65 plus a grew by 2041 cases, which is 8.4% growth rate. If you look at zero to 17, their growth rate was almost exactly 2048 close the same and raw numbers and percent wise it was 9.1% growth rate. And so zero to 17 very healthy, many times asymptomatic. But first of all, they’re getting tests, which is a good thing. And then secondly, they’re testing positive at and having a growth rate in the number of cases. And so we’re identifying those cases, but it’s just a reminder that every age group can carry the virus. This is just a startling reminder as to how our deaths have increased in Arkansas. And July it was 10.4 average increase in deaths. And then in September it goes up in October it goes up to 18 and then in November has been 22.1. It’s just a somber reminder as to the viciousness of the Coronavirus and how we need to take precautions. This is the growth rate of new cases in Arkansas by public health region, which as I pointed out central has a high growth rate northeast Northwest about the same. And so it is in each of the different regions of our state. And so with that, let me turn it over to Dr. Romero for his comments.
Dr. Jose Romero 13:28:32
Thank you, Governor and good afternoon. So a little bit about the vaccines to expand upon what’s been already been said. In addition to the Pfizer vaccine, we will most likely have another vaccine from a company called Moderna. It’s a vaccine that’s in the same class as the Pfizer vaccine. The FDA will see and review the safety and the efficacy data of that vaccine. The if they rule that it is appropriate then recommendation for an EPA approval will be issued and the ACIP will meet that’s a CDC certification branch will meet after that, probably the next day or day after that and also approve it. It will have a different age range than the current Pfizer vaccine Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16 and up the next vaccine that is Moderna will be for 18 years and older and additional require recommendations will be made based on that. So we will have most likely next week two vaccines here in the state. And as the Governor mentioned, we will continue to receive recurrent doses, Our clots or allotments of Pfizer vaccine in the future. I want to stress that safety has never been compromised for these vaccines. If you’ve heard me say this before, I’ll say it again, in all three phases of the vaccine development, safety has been paramount. And that has been echoed by the pharmaceutical companies, the FDA and the CDC, and post post release of these vaccines, we have at least four different ways of tracking safety signals. And one of those includes something called veirs, which allows the public to self report any adverse events, the vaccines are reject react to genic that is a cause some fever, some swelling of the arm, and and some soreness. But that does not mean that the vaccines are not safe. So enough of the vaccines, I want to talk turn a little bit to the monoclonal antibodies, as we mentioned by Sam, these been available to us for approximately a month, they have been taken up rapidly by hospitals across the state. These therapies have been proven to be effective in limiting the extent of disease in individuals infected by COVID. These individuals that have this and have been confirmed with either a PCR or an antigen test should receive this therapy early if you have risk factors. This really is something that the public should know about. And this should take the place of any of the other non proven recommendations for treatment. This is what the public needs to know about, these monoclonal antibodies, and getting treated early not late before the infection really takes hold. And then lastly, my closing final seconds here, I want to remind everyone, this pandemic is not under control. You should reassess your holiday plans this year. The CDC has recommended no non essential travel even within the state limit the individuals that you congregate with. That includes family members, all indoor activity should have a mask in place. Even if you know the individual whose home you’re going to and really reassess your holiday plans. We have many holidays in front of us. We need to keep our elderly, our frail, and our fragile safe. And we want to bring this under control. So I’ll stop here and turn this back over to the Governor. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:32:27
Thank you Dr. Romero. And Arkansas is very proud of your work on the committee that reviews the vaccine practices. And your insights have been extraordinarily helpful to me and to the state. With that, antigen testing has been a goal of ours to expand in Arkansas. It’s been very successful. One of our areas that we want to utilize antigen testing was in our Department of Corrections to try to minimize the infections that might be transmitted through staff and personnel there. Secretary Graves has done a good job of implementing that and I want him to talk about that.
Sec. Solomon Graves – ADC 13:33:12
Thank you Governor in October, you authorize the Department to receive an allocation of the by next rapid test. Since that initial authorization we have administered almost 44,000 rapid test. These are part of a weekly strategy within all of our state prisons and community correct action centers for all staff receiving a rapid rapid test upon their arrival at work. Since October, we have identified 141 staff as positive through the administration of the binax rapid test. While there may appear to some to be a small amount within a congregate housing setting, being able to get in front of the asymptomatic spread of the COVID virus is is an extremely important tool and we are grateful that the state has given us this ability. As a as a result, we have seen a few flattening of our COVID tests over the last two months. I’m also pleased to announce that this morning the Department was made aware that we will be receiving a second allocation from the Department of Health early part of next week of another 43,000 rapid tests, which are projected to take us through the latter part of February, 1st of March. That time period also coincides with the vaccine distribution schedule, which we have worked to implement with our partners at the Department of Health, we will first begin by vaccinating our medical staff, then move to our state Correctional Facility employees. Those vaccinations should begin the latter part of January through February and then a latter part of February, into March based on the current vaccine schedule, we will have vaccine made available to the inmates and residents in our state prisons and community corrections centers. Again, Governor, thank you for your continued support during this pandemic.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:35:21
Thank you and the Secretary Key give us a report on Education.
Allison Wise – 40/29 News 13:35:32
Good afternoon. Last week in the state of Arkansas, we had 35 schools that made some type of modifications of their on-site instruction. And so far this week, we’ve had 30. But it should be noted that 25 of those were due to weather situations in North Arkansas. So so far this week, we’ve had five that have made COVID related modifications. One thing that is noteworthy about that is that in the week, or two weeks after Thanksgiving, we have seen a lower number of modifications than what we saw in the weeks following Halloween. So that is just a point of observation that we will be looking at, and especially to see how informative that might be as we prepare for the time after students come back from Christmas break. That brings our total currently to 48 as of today, 48 districts or schools that have some type of active on site modification, and 343 that have an expired modification or have returned to normal on-site instruction. Also, today I want to highlight the work of Fort Smith School District. Fort Smith’s Fort Smith public schools last week launched, they’re On Track Program. One of the things we continue to hear about our concerns from parents, and teachers and administrators about students falling behind. And the Fort Smith public schools have developed this on track program for the students at Northside and Southside High Schools for any student that is failing in one or more of their courses, to be able to come in and prepare a academic improvement plan to make sure they are able to advance either through graduation, or advanced to the next grade level. That began last week. And then today, they had a press conference at noon with Mayor McGill and the city of Fort Smith, to really spread the word and to provide that to the community backing for this very important effort. And I highlight this today, because I think other districts and other cities in the state can really look to Fort Smith as a model of how to make sure the community is behind the students, helping the students helping the teachers and helping the administrators make sure that these students do not fall behind and stay behind. Thank you.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:38:07
Thank you, Johnny. And finally, if you could put up the next slide, I’m pleased to announce that what we indicated we were going to work toward two weeks ago we have been successful. And today we have our TraumaCom which will be called COVIDComm system that will be put into place. This is a system that is designed after our our trauma operations so we can properly designate a trauma patient to the right hospital with the right level of care. Now we can have a statewide system that will allocate scarce resources for fighting COVID and making sure a COVID patient gets to the right hospital with the right resources for the right level of care. This will be centralized through the Department of Health that will operate the COVIDComm system. It’ll be an incredible tool that will help our hospitals utilize more efficiently, their scarce resources and also benefit the patients because the patients will go to the right hospital with the right level of care for them. And so it’s a good tool. I applaud Dr. Jerrilyn Jones and her work and implementing this in a very short amount of time. And this is going to be a good tool for us. To my knowledge, there’s not a system like this across the country. But it is something that works well in Arkansas will be a great tool for us that is supported by our hospitals. And Dr. Jones, if you could just talk a little bit about the expertise that you’ve brought together for this.
Dr. Jerrilyn Jones – UAMS 13:39:50
Thank you, Governor. So like the Governor said, we spent some time pulling together experts from around the state in terms of developing a clinical tool that will be used to determine where or to assess patients that arrive at a given facility, and to help determine where those individuals should go. So now that we have, so Arkansas basically is, this process is not one that is unfamiliar to Arkansans, and Arkansas hospitals. The TraumaComm system has been in place for over a decade. And so utilizing this system to move COVID patients, the thought behind that was that the the activation energy or the level of change and adjustment that would have to be made would be rather small because this is a process we already know how to do. So in addition to the normal operators at TraumaComm, who will be answering the phones, we have a set of clinicians behind them, to back them and help assist in terms of determining where patients will go and be transferred to. And so it’s a robust team of individuals that will be working to make sure COVID positive patients that cannot stay at the facility where they present, and I think that’s an important point. So unlike the trauma system, and I’ve said this before, where there’s a lot of data behind what specific injury patterns need to be treated at specific hospitals. And there is a rigorous designation of level one trauma institutions, level twos etc. We don’t have that kind of data behind COVID. And so the primary responsibility of caring for COVID patients will be at the facility where that patient presents. However, if it turns out that that facility is unable to care for the COVID patient because they are out of beds, there’s no ICU when the patient relate requires ICU level care. That is when this TraumaComm or COVIDComm system will be initiated. And we’ve worked very, very hard to make sure that patients are directed to the most appropriate facility. Also understanding that not every patient that requires an inpatient bed for admission needs to go to a tertiary care center. So we’ve taken all of those things into account. And the team has been wonderful in coming up with this. I’d like to thank Jeff Tabor and John Swanson and the folks that TraumaComm for they’ll help with this as well as Troy Wells and the other individuals on the Winter Task Force subcommittee for all the input they provided and making this come into fruition. So thank you, Governor.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:42:21
Thank you, Dr. Jones. And I’ll never forget the Winter Task Force meeting that we had in which Dr. Jones was there by Zoom. And she had just pulled an all nighter working and then staying on for the Task Force meeting. And so she’s worked very, very hard to implement this and thank you. With that be happy to turn this open to questions. Less Leslie first
Leslie Peacock – Ark Times 13:42:48
Can we get a clearer picture on what’s happening in ICUs whether they’re out whether there’s capacity left in ICUs or staffing available now and ICU’s what the what the situation is and and if like other states we are triaging COVID patients and other patients differently, maybe sending patients home who wouldn’t have been sent home before?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:43:16
Well, Sam Lynd, are you still on there?
Sam Lynd – NEA Baptist, Jonesboro 13:43:21
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:43:22
Why don’t you take a crack at this in terms of Northeast Arkansas and the ICU beds?
Sam Lynd – NEA Baptist, Jonesboro 13:43:29
Yes, sir. So what I would say is today in northeast Arkansas, there’s about 15 ICU beds available. As you’ve heard me say, at NEA Baptist ours are ours are pretty full and remain that way. It seems as though if we’re able to open up one or two beds of capacity, we’re able to fill those within hours or less than and I think that some of the availability is in some of our smaller hospitals where they’re certainly trying to keep those patients there. But as you’ve heard Dr. Jones say, sometimes resources require we move those patients to a higher level of facility, higher level of care. I’d say that we certainly look with scrutiny at all times, but probably it’s true even more so now. At that maybe don’t need hospital level of care so that we can clear capacity for COVID patients. We’re certainly using the triage processes we always use, but look at those even closer during times when resources are so thin.
Dr. Jose Romero 13:44:28
So let me address one of the questions. Are we sending home patients that don’t need to be sent home? No, we are not. No patient is being discharged as far as I have heard or been reported that, that if their need to be admitted, they will be admitted and treated appropriately. We have capacity in the ICU across the state, although it is not equal. And so this COVIDComm will allow us to address that at a better better than we have in the past. So knowing what centers have ICU beds available we can rapidly transfer to and from
Andy Davis – ADG 13:45:05
A couple weeks ago, you said you were considering stricter limit on indoor venue. What’s the status?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:45:17
The Department of Health compliance office is in the middle of a 10 day statewide compliance blitz. And so we want to give that time to operate. That directive that we talked about is still under review.
Rolly Hoyt – KTHV 11 13:45:35
Governor, my question is largely directed towards Dr. Romero, about data. First off in the last six days by today’s count added we’ve seen between a 47 and a 50% increase in the number of deaths called probable deaths. And I’m wondering if there’s already explanation for that kind of jump if we haven’t seen since began listening?
Dr. Austin Porter – ADH 13:46:06
Think it was an excellent question. So regarding the probable deaths, that is due to the process that we have in place, so that we can review and adjudicate all of our deaths that are either confirmed or probable it goes through review, or review or excuse me a review process. And once we have adjudicated those appropriately, we will then release that information out to the public. So that’s why you’ve been seeing the significant increase in the probable deaths over the past few days.
I see the questions about probable versus confirmed, how do you go about testing someone who’s died to determine whether it’s a false positive or something like that? I’m wondering how much these fatalities might change,
Well, no, the the fatality status does not change, I mean, usually what will happen is that a deceased and will have a positive test prior to the death. And then once that, once that person has died, the in the corner or the medical examiner will then determine it death to be COVID related or not. At that point, it will come to our office where we will further investigate that information.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:47:20
You referred to an increase in the number of probable cases, which are based upon antigen test. And as you can see, the number of antigen tests are going up dramatically. And so I think it’s mirroring the fact that we’re doing more antigen testing. And so we’re having more deaths associated with the antigen testing versus the traditional amount on the PCR. Next, let’s go next question.
Curious about we recorded before the weekend about a restaurant here in little rock that experienced an outbreak in a clip kitchen. More than 10 employees and staff with positive tests. It hasn’t shown up on any occupation reports that the state puts out. And in speaking with some of those folks, they also indicate that they hadn’t been contact traced up to six days when we spoke to them after they’ve gotten positive test. Since it appears to be contact tracing or generating this data that goes into deciding guidelines and that sort of thing. How confident are you guys right now at the data that you’re getting with all the pressure on contract tracers?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:48:35
Well, I’ll start and then Dr. Romero can comment. But we want more data, we want more accurate data, we’d like to have more timely data. And the you know, the the contact tracing information is helpful to us because in some instances, it allows you to know where the positive case has been. And you can determine what the risks are and that’s true whether the positive case is contacted within 24 hours or within five days. It still gives us the information, it’s just not as is helpful in terms of identifying the additional contacts that that person have had. I would emphasize that the first contact is with our nurse investigators. And so the nurse investigator will call will give instruction to the patient and then it’s turned over to the contact tracer. And that is where the delay is right now. And because obviously the volume of cases that has been more challenging. Dr. Romero,
Dr. Jose Romero 13:49:49
As usual, the governor has stolen my thunder. He’s correct. He’s exactly correct. So the issue is that the larger number of cases we have now means more burden to the to the contact tracers. And so that may be part of it. And we’re trying to work towards that, you know, we can only have each contact tracer can only handle so many cases each day. Do I think the data is robust enough to act on? Yes, I do. Because that information we’re putting into, into our databases, our red cap database, Dr. Cima looks at that and provides a report of where the clusters could be. And we’re not seeing anything specific that we can tell you at this time.
Rolly Hoyt – KTHV 11 13:50:33
…By the time it sounds like they get around to it, clusters.
Dr. Jose Romero 13:50:40
So So rather than offer specific comment about the things I’m not fully aware, I would be happy to talk about it offline, once I have a little bit more information.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:50:50
Are there any questions remotely? Yeah.
Neal Gladner 13:50:55
Neal Gladner ar KZNG in hot springs. Last week, you asked the legislature to meet as a committee of the whole, and I’ve not heard anything about that. Can you give us an update? Have you heard from legislative leadership on that, and where does that stand?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:51:09
But it’s important to know that this is different from a special session of the legislature in which only the governor can call and convene that special session. This is a Committee of the Whole in which the legislative leadership can coordinate and set that date. And so I obviously expected that action to happen quickly. I know that there are many legislators here this week, but that’s a call the leadership and I know that they’re working hard to figure out the right day and what works for everyone. But I certainly expect the General Assembly to respond to that, and to meet as a Committee of the Whole before the end of the year, but they will have to set that date.
Just a follow up governor, are you disappointed that it hasn’t been set already?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:52:02
You got to give them some leeway. You know, if I set the date, I could set it but this is their responsibility and prerogative and I know that they’re working in good faith to accomplish that. A lot of discussions going on. And so certainly give them the leeway to set that date that works for them. Next,
Amanda Hansen – KAIT 13:52:24
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:52:25
It’s Amanda Hansen with KAIT, I’m going to ask about a letter that was drafted by a handful of lawmakers following your address on Thursday. Those lawmakers expressing that they have felt like silent partners in the fight against COVID-19, and they brought up the extension of the emergency order which they said they felt should be terminated and that the legislators should be involved with the decisions made in response to this health care emergency. Have you read the letter? What’s your response to those lawmakers?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:52:51
Is that a recent letter? Present. I’ve not received any reason the recent letter I ever received any recent letter in regard to the most recent call for the emergency. But I’ve responded in the sense of asking for the legislature to meet as a Committee of the Whole and to affirm the emergency declaration that I called. And so they’re getting their wish. They’ve asked for it. And I’m asking them to affirm that emergency declaration that I’ve called, and I hope they will act on that. Next question.
Allie Lynch – 5News KFSM 13:53:33
Hi, Governor. This is Allie Lynch with 5 News, KFSM in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley. My question is who will be next in line to receive the vaccine after long term care facility staff and residents. Will be inmates or teachers.? Earlier in the press conference it was said inmates are receiving the vaccine likely around February or March.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:53:54
I’m going to ask Dr. Romero who’s working on that to comment, and then I will follow up with it too.
Dr. Jose Romero 13:54:04
Thank you. So at this time, the ACI p which is the Advisory Committee for the Immunization Practices of the CDC is currently looking That it will it appears to be that essential personnel will be in that group that will include teachers and others in that group. Individuals in correctional facilities are not in that group. They will be looked at later on. The speed with which we are able to introduce the vaccine into these different populations will depend on the amount of vaccine that we receive within the state. The CDC hopes to offer concrete recommendations on phase two in the next two weeks at the latest.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:54:49
And I would just add that those CDC guidelines and recommendations to the states are very important. We followed their early record recommendations. And, of course, Dr. Romero’s engagement, if that makes a difference, as well, but I would add that Dr. Romero and I will look at what their recommendations are, and then we will tailor make them fit for Arkansas, if there’s any special needs or adjustments that need to be made in our state. And so we likely will be following the guidelines, but it is a recommendation and the states can tailor make that as needed. And we will look at that in the coming probably 10 days. Next question.
Mike McNeil – MagnoliaReporter.com 13:55:37
Governor, Mike McNeil at Magnolia Reporter.com. By when might we expect there to be enough vaccines available in Arkansas for delivery to everyone who wants one?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:55:50
Well, one, we don’t know precisely the date of that, because it depends upon the production capacity of Operation Warp Speed and the pharmaceutical companies. It also perhaps depends upon how many vaccines the FDA is able to approve, because we have Moderna that’s coming up this week, they very well could be Johnson-and-Johnson or another one down the road. And so that precise date is not known. I have a lot of confidence in our manufacturing capacity and the safety of it. So I am hopeful that by late spring, this will be widely available to everyone in Arkansas.
Andrew DeMillo – AP 13:56:37
Governor, this is Andrew with with AP. Want to follow up again on the Committee of the Whole that you would have requested regarding the disaster declaration. A couple of questions on that. If what do you envision happening or I guess what, what would happen if the legislature either doesn’t meet to take this up or the votes against extending the disaster declaration for the pandemic? And the second part of the question I had was, how much of this requesting them to meet is an effort to or is basically hoping that this will discourage any efforts to scale back your does that your disaster powers or the legislature doing anything else regarding the restrictions that are in place next year?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:57:26
Well, Andrew, you asked a good question. Some of it is speculative. But let me answer it this way that the legislature has always had the power to convene a Committee of the Whole to affirm or to reject the emergency declarations that I’ve issued since March 11. That’s been within their statutory prerogative. They have not met and so I called upon them to meet as a Committee of the Whole because number of the legislature say we’d like to be more engaged. And I think it’s totally beneficial to the people of Arkansas to see that there is a full team effort with the legislature with a governor all recognizing the emergency that we’re under and affirming that. I think that’s good for everyone to hear, and as part of the reason and the principal reason I’m asking them to convene and affirm the emergency that I declared. You’re asking me what if that doesn’t happen? Well, I continue with my emergency powers and we will act as needed to deal with the Coronavirus that’s in front of us. The limited hospital capacity that we have all the other emergency needs that go with that. But I think the legislature has been tremendous partners through this. I expect them to meet and to affirm this emergency and then we’ll have continued debates on that in January as well. Next question.
Allison Wise – 40/29 News 13:59:04
Governor, This is Alison with 4029 in Northwest Arkansas. My question is actually for Secretary Key. How is the Department of Education tracking any pass-fail rates across the state for our students? And do we reach a point as we head into the spring semester after the Christmas break where the state has to step in and mandate some type of program to get students back on track? If that’s needed? Thank you for that question. So we don’t track at a statewide level, the pass-fail rates while students are in school, that happens at the district level, as is typical. And the districts are responsible for monitoring that and working with those students with those parents to address whatever deficiencies they have. It’s very important that these students do stay on track for graduation, especially when we’re talking about high school students. Thinking about, you know, students start earning High School credits in eighth grade. So from eighth grade to 12th grade, it’s very important that they the district’s monitor this, I don’t envision a situation that in any way that would replicate what we did in the spring. We want students to continue learning new material, they will still be responsible for that. Districts know that they have to find ways if those students are unengaged to to engage, then get them engaged, especially if they’re doing online learning, which was the intent behind our Engage Arkansas initiative. Right now we’ve identified over 5000 students who are either registered for online courses and are not logging in, or they are failing those courses, or they have just they’re just, we don’t know where they are districts don’t know where they are. So we’re working through our educational renewal zones, working with graduate the Graduation Alliance, and 108 districts who have signed up for this support. So that’s going to involve academic coaching. It’s going to involve wraparound supports for students that may need those and drawing from the community to help support those students in this effort. So no, I don’t envision that we will make any type of edict that would say that you have to do a pass fail. These students still have to learn what are the standards, Arkansas academic standards set forth?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 14:01:33
Is there one last question at the table.
Andy Davis – ADG 14:01:36
On the COVIDComm, is that actually operating now? And has there, has it transferred any patience at this point?
Dr. Jerrilyn Jones – UAMS 14:01:51
So thank you for the question. All the components are in place and we’re ready to go. So we’re gonna say a go-live date tomorrow morning. But so no, we have not transferred any patients as of yet. But we’re happy to make the announcement at two weeks like we said we would and so we’re ready to go.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 14:02:09
With that, thank you. Y’all. Have a good afternoon.