Tuesday, September 8, 2020

This transcript was auto transcribed by


antigen test, cases, week, test, county, romero, additional, department, number, governor, eligible, terms, testing, bit, unemployment, result, state, today, asymptomatic, arkansas


Andrew DeMillo – AP, Melissa Zygowicz – THV11, Alex Burch – KATV, Jaime Weiss – 40/29 News, Mike Preston, Andy Davis – ADG, Governor Asa Hutchinson

Governor Asa Hutchinson  00:00

Thank you for joining me for today’s COVID-19 daily update. After a long Labor Day weekend, I’m pleased to be joined by Dr. Jose Romero, Secretary of the Department of Health today, as well as we have, who else we got, Secretary Mike Preston, Secretary of Commerce will have an important announcement as well. And with that, let me look first at announcement that we made some time ago in which I indicated that Arkansas would be joining a multi-state purchasing agreement, led by the Rockefeller Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the National Governors Association, a number of states joining together. Arkansas joined this coalition and in order to purchase a larger volume of antigen test that would be coming on the market. The Department of Health has worked very diligently as with our procurement team to follow up on this commitment. And today I’m pleased to announce that we’re using $4 million to purchase 120,000 antigen test to be used throughout the state as a result of this multi-state purchasing agreement. That is our commitment. This will not require any state funds since this will be using CARES Act funding already approved for testing and so the money is already there. It allow us to save significant amount of money on the purchasing in a larger volume but also hopefully to secure a steady supply. These tests will be used in all Department of Health local health units, 10 College health centers, and selected community testing sites. And our goal is to have these available October through the end of the year that will cover that. And we’re investing that $4 million for that purpose. And this will be rapid testing equipment and supplies that will be utilized in this fashion.  Let me go to the cases. And I just looked back, remember on Friday when we were last here we had over 1000 new COVID-19 cases. It is 1094. On Saturday, that was cut in half by 50% to 515. On Sunday, we had 687. And then on Monday, we had 350. So you can almost see a seesaw in the number of cases. But what was encouraging to me was the fact that on each of these days, we had very robust testing that was done across Arkansas. We’re getting between almost over 6000 tests per day on the average. And so yesterday, I mentioned what we had. But yesterday we had an additional 294 COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours – 294 new cases. And that’s in contrast, of course, a previous day of 350. So today we have a total cumulative of 66,021 tests (cases). And in terms of hospitalizations, we’ve increased our hospitalizations by 10. That brings us to 409. And we have nine additional deaths. That brings us to 917. And Dr. Romero will have additional comments on those. We have on our testing side another strong day of testing with 5154 tests. One half of those done by the Department of Health again, great job, Jose, by the Department of Health in the work that they are producing. In terms of antigen we’re test – we’re reporting those separately. Yesterday we had 139 antigen tests, obviously down – 20 positive, 119 negative. And so let’s look at the graphs that showed it a different way that puts it in perspective. And you can see here, and if you look back, you can almost see a pattern. If I can walk over there for a second, that sometimes we’ll have the peak for a couple of days and then we’ll go down. If you can see that, if you  can see that, you know, week by week. And so for that reason, we’re not necessarily anticipating that that is going to continue all week where we are, but it does show us a little bit of a pattern that when we have a high point, it doesn’t mean it’s going to stay a high point either but what is encouraged to me, as I said on some of those previous incidences, which we had low numbers, we also had low testing. And in contrast to that we have high testing in each of these days. And we’ve had some declining numbers. You go the next one, you see the seven-day rolling average, that we’ll see where it goes through the course of this week. And then you look at the number of hospitalized, it’s up and down. We have a comfortable margin to where we’ve been before. But we will always smart watch that. And of course, if you have more cases then ultimately that could mean we have more hospitalizations. The number of active cases declined a little bit, which is a good sign, more have recovered. And you can see that dip down to below the 6000 mark. The rate of growth we wanted to look at here and this is by public health region. And this is from August 30th through September 5th. And this is the percent growth in our different public health regions. And so you can see that in the northwest, because we’ve had the spike in on college campuses primarily, we have the largest growth at about 6.8% growth in the Northwest region, followed by the Northeast, a little bit right about the same a little bit lower. Central Arkansas is about 6.3% and then it goes over to Southeast and southwest that are in a lower tier. That has been our growth rate of cases during that time from August 3rd 30th to September 5. She next slide will look at it from age group. And here we see the same time frame August 30 to September 5 and here If you look at the 18 through 24 year old, that’s over 16% growth rate. And that absorbs so much of the growth in cases that we’ve had compared to the other groups, if you add in the 0 to 17, that’s the bulk of the new cases. Now, part of that is that hopefully that’s a very low level of hospitalizations. So we won’t see any serious illnesses as a result of that, we hope, but it also reflects a higher number over in the 65-Plus, and so this age group needs to be mindful that they can impact the 65-plus age group. And then this is just the number of antigen test as I mentioned, we try to report this regularly. This is the cumulative number of antigen test that brings us to 3384 at this point in the month, which We’re going to make our goal if we continue this trend, and that’s a, I think the next one shows the positivity rate for our antigen test, which always is a little bit higher than our PCR test. And so here you see about a 14% positivity rate of our antigen task, which is the quick turnaround rapid result test. And so we hope we’ll see improvement on that. But that’s just part of the nature of getting a rapid test. And then on the PCR test, you see our positivity rate for the seven day rolling average, well below the 10%. And we know that that dip at the end might come up a little bit as they backfill some of those But even as they backfill them, we’re well below the 10%. And so that’s an encouraging sign. And this is my last graphic that I want to present to you, but this again shows us by county. I encourage everyone to look on the Department of Health website, you will be able to see where your county is in terms of the positivity rate. And we’ve had some good news in terms of Pulaski County staying down at 6.3%. You look at Benton County’s at 6.8%. Now last week when we showed this Washington County was in the six to 7% range, it’s kicked up to 11.7%. Obviously, because we had the increase among our college students, but you can also see some of the smaller counties around with lower numbers but higher percent positivity rate. And we want to watch those whenever you look up at Newton County was 16.3, Searcy 16.7 Stone 16.4. And so all of those are in the same geographic area in northern Arkansas. But we want to make sure we can make some progress in those rural areas. And then before I turn it over to Dr. Romero, I wanted to set the stage for Secretary Preston coming to talk about the $300 additional pandemic assistance that has been authorized by the President Trump by executive order, and we are ready to send this extra compensation out. It will be one week at a time. And that is because it’s not clear of the funding stream for this additional pandemic assistance from the federal government. And so we’re still negotiating working with them as to how we can do this over a longer period of time, but Secretary press and will show whatever One needs to do in order to access that first week, and then hopefully that will be followed by additional weeks. And then finally, another good news from the secretary from the Department of Commerce. We have four additional grants, totaling $5 million for high-speed broadband internet to be developed in some of our rural areas of Arkansas. These grants these four grants include White County, partnering with Windstream, Hempstead County partnering with Premier Holding, Jackson County partnering with Skyfit Net, and the city of Humnoke partnering with CableSouth Media for… So for additional grants $5 million to help us to have a long term solution for our high-speed broadband in our rural communities. M ike, good job by your team on getting those grants out and making that a successful program with that Dr. Romero.

Melissa Zygowicz – THV11  12:05

Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon. So that a little bit more detail to the numbers. We had increases in our hospitalizations and ventilator cases from yesterday to today 10 each so hospitalized patients are now 409. Individuals requiring mechanical ventilation are 84. As mentioned, we have a total deaths now of 917. That’s an increase of nine. One of those is a delayed reporting, and the others are from this month and previous month, within the last three weeks. There’s no vocality no evidence of any clustering. In those reports. Total recovered patients are 59,260 individuals with an addition yesterday of 503 Regarding the counties today, we only have three counties over 20 cases each. Cross county is leading the three with 30 cases. Now, cross county appears to have an outbreak occurring in one of the nursing homes. Some of the data was missing that was sent to us. But we’re looking at that now and we’ll have the name of the of the nursing home shortly. Washington County has 29 and Pulaski County has 28. As mentioned by the governor, our testing has been very robust over the last few days. And thanks to the department of health, public health lab, which contributed more than 50% of those cases. So before I turn it back over to the governor or to Secretary Preston, I want to stress the the fact that our one weak percentage rate growth really was very significant. The 16 1718 year to 24 year age group and increased by 16.8%, or nearly 17%, that’s two to three times higher than any of the other age groups. So we’re clearly seeing what we believe, to be a reflection of those cases in colleges and universities. We’ve really, I keep reaching out and saying that to the college students and university students, it’s important for you to hear to the mask, the hand washing and the social distancing mandates that we have in order to bring this under control, whether you live on campus or live off campus, those are kind of those are essentially congregate living facilities that you’re in. And therefore you can spread very quickly in those in those community settings, if you’re not following those those guidelines. So again, please help us bring this under control. We hope not to see more increases in the next few days. So thank you very much, Secretary Preston, I believe.

Mike Preston  14:59

Thank you so much. Terry Romero and thank you, Governor and governor will expound a little bit on the lost wages Assistance Program. But first, I do want to share a little bit of good news related to unemployment where we stand as a state is most folks are aware now we’re down to 7.1%. We continue to see a drop in the continued unemployment claims as a state, in fact, were seven consecutive weeks now, in 12. The last 13 weeks, we’ve seen a drop in the continued claims on unemployment. We’re about 83,000 are Kansans, who are still receiving unemployment benefits, about 41,000 on traditional unemployment assistance, and another 42,000 on the pandemic unemployment assistance. So we are seeing those numbers go in the right direction, still have a lot of work to do and a lot of our Kansans to get back to work, but I’m thankful for those numbers going in the right direction. The lost wages Assistance Program, the Lw AP is the newest program coming out of the federal government to support unemployment assistance. As the governor mentioned, this was as a result President Trump’s executive order to make $300 per week available using FEMA funds. And this is in place of the expired federal pandemic unemployment compensation, which is a reminder was the $600 additional weekly benefit that folks were receiving that expired on July 25. So the President’s Executive Order picks up where that left off that week of the 25th of July. The system is now live and ready to go. We’ll be sending out letters to those on unemployment insurance who are eligible. So I do want to talk a little bit about the eligibility and you can see on the screen beside me who is eligible, so any of them who is receiving state or federal unemployment benefits of $100 or more per week and the minimum on p ua is 132. So anyone on the PA system would be eligible. Those who are unemployed due to disruption caused by covid 19 pandemic is another qualifier for the $300. And his executive order starts the week ending August 1. And as the governor mentioned, this is on a week by week basis now. So we’ve been approved for the week of that August 1, and we’ll work with our counterparts of the federal government going forward. As funds become available and are released to the state we’ll be able to make those funds available, as we’re required to put up a 25% match. And we’re using our traditional unemployment insurance payments to cover that 25% match. So those who are eligible, what do you need to do? You will go to if you like I said before the P ua if you’re on the pandemic unemployment assistance, you are automatically qualified. Just continue doing your weekly certification, and we’ll be able to certify those who are unemployed in those weeks that were specified. If you are a traditional UI recipient, you will receive a notification in the mail with the next steps in which include having a code At 19 certification, this is something that’s new to it and we had to build a brand new system to account for it. So you’ll have to go back in and certify that your unemployment was as a result of the disruption caused by COVID-19. You can go to the AR unemployment website or where you go to file your continued weekly claims that arc or you can call on the hotline 501-907-2590 those numbers and that information is up there on the screen. One other point on this and to to highlight is that those that are above $100 or the ones that are eligible, if you are making below $100 weekly unemployment, it does not qualify you for this benefit through the FEMA program. So for those who are under $100 minimum in Arkansas is 81. So anyone who is receiving 81 to $99 Weekly, we are going to send out a letter And notification to those individuals. There’s approximately 7400 in the state who fall into this category. And we’re going to make some TANF funds available through the Department of Workforce Services TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. And we will match what the the federal FEMA, the Lw aap program is for those individuals. And in order to be TANF eligible, you have to be the custodial parent of a child under 18. And also have a family income less than 200% of the federal poverty level. So we hit those boxes along with the ones we mentioned, for being unemployed during those weeks specified as a result of COVID-19. You’ll be eligible for the $300 per week through our TANF program, but you’ll receive a separate letter detailing how you will apply and how we’ll get those funds out to you. With that, Governor, I’ll turn it back over to you.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  19:55

Thank you, Mike. With that, we will take any questions.

Andy Davis – ADG  20:01

What did you think about how Labor Day weekend? When and what type of impact Are you expecting from that?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  20:08

Great question. And the answer is I spent some time across the state. And I saw people really trying to wear their masks to socially distance. There’s always exceptions to it. Sometimes you see those on social media, but I saw our Kansans making a real effort to make sure that we didn’t make Labor Day weekend like Memorial weekend. And so we’ll know we’ll get our grade on this in a couple of weeks. But I was very pleased with what I saw. In terms of the response, you know, whenever you look at like the Chuck Wagon races, I talked to Dr. Romero, and the Department of Health Team, and they were there. They worked with them, they were announcements made, and while we saw some, you know, challenges on Social media, they really worked hard in terms of the organizers in complying with the guidelines. And, and so we think our Kansas made a very good effort over this weekend

Alex Burch – KATV  21:16

Do you expect to see an increase in a couple of weeks?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  21:19

Well, I’ll let Dr. Romero if he wants to comment on this. All I can say is, I hope not. But we’ll wait and see. I mean, anytime you have increased activity, and if that increased activity is without social distancing and wearing a mask, then you’re going to have an increase in cases. But like I said, there’s been a real effort made this weekend in also, you know, on, you know, in Fayetteville on the college campuses and on Dickson Street. You know, the students by and large, got the message they understood what was needed and, and hopefully that will help us in terms of our result. Next couple The weeks as well. Dr. Romero, do you have anything on that?

Alex Burch – KATV  22:07

new cases? Are antigen positive cases included in that total?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  22:13

No, you’d have to have a the antigen test and then a PCR test and when the PCR test is completed is positive, that’s when it goes into that total.

Alex Burch – KATV  22:24

get positive energy test. It’s my understanding they’re not going on to get the PCR test. Is that correct?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  22:30

That is correct. That is correct. It would be if it’s a Did I answer that right? Yeah, why don’t you come up? I want to make sure we get that right.

Melissa Zygowicz – THV11  22:43

So your your question is a good one. And it has changed over time, because there was this period of time where we were recommending that you go back and you do additional testing, if appropriate. Today in today’s world now with a change in the way we’re recording positives, as both Confirmed and probable we don’t ask them to go back and get a confirmed PCR. So they’re in a category by themselves and we have that number here. But my fault for not stressing that today, but there were there are to date 736 probable cases of COVID-19. And those are based primarily on the antigen test. So those are not lumped into the total, because they’re probably cases. Did I answer your question?

Alex Burch – KATV  23:27

Yes. It’s my understanding that the PCR positive tests are pretty reliable. So wouldn’t it be helpful to include those positives with the daily total?

Melissa Zygowicz – THV11  23:38

So they are if you’re saying the antigen test is fairly reliable, yes, it is. But still, it does not conform with the diag with the the the classification by the CST and now adopted by the CDC. So we will keep them separate for now, until we have further guidance from the CDC as to whether to combine them or not.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  23:58

And as time goes on and we increase the number of antigen test, we can probably give a cumulative total as well, that might be informative and easier. Right now, there’s a small number of probable antigen test and our positive antigen test, so it’s easy to add into the total. As time goes on. You’ll see those numbers increase. Any questions from our distance? Audience?

Andrew DeMillo – AP  24:32

Yeah. Governor, Andrew with AP. Had a couple things want to ask you about, first of all you they had, they’ve reported that their active cases are approaching 1000 1000. Now think it’s not 900 something. wanted to see if you adopt Romero if you how much we’re concerned is that number at this point, and is that a number that you think warrants looking at Steps beyond what the school has done in terms of restricting on campus events off campus parties. What kind of discussions are you having with them and other schools at this point? And the second thing I want to ask you about want to clarify a comment you had made last week where you had said that you’re currently not considering any more statewide restrictions and want to just just clarify, are you leaving open the possibility of some regional or kind of more geographically targeted restrictions, including some some of what the White House Task Force had recommended in terms of restrictions, targeting counties that they’ve classified as red zone or yellow zone counties? Is that something that you’re, you’re leaving open as possibility?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  25:47

You’ll have to help me out Andrew with all of that multifaceted question, but on the first part, in terms of the University of Arkansas, Dr. Romero and I both were on the phone today, with Chancellor Stein minutes, we reviewed their plan, the actions that they’ve taken as well as additional actions that they could implement if need be. And we’re both satisfied that the university has a very good plan. They took aggressive steps early on whenever they saw the spike in cases among the students. And we’re hopeful that that will result in a leveling off of those new cases. And, and so I think they’ve taken the right steps. They have good enforcement mechanisms there. And the city is very, very supportive of it. So for the time being, I think they’re exactly on the right track. With the steps that have been taken in terms of statewide, you know, there’s not, we will always look at additional restrictions if what we see needs to end justifies that type of action. So we’ll take it a step at it. time but at this point, there’s not any additional restrictions that are being looked at. In terms of the regional approach, we really have implemented that to a certain extent in with the Department of Education. Because we have the different categories of counties, which whether you’re red or yellow, and that helps us to guide the response to any breakout in a school or positive cases. And so there is that with the information being provided everyone can look at it regionally. In their county, they can see the number of active cases the positivity, right they can see the number of cases in their schools or in their higher education, and that guides behavior so that regional information really serves that purpose of regional guidance. Next Question.

Jaime Weiss – 40/29 News  28:03

Hey, Governor Hutchinson, this is Jamie Weiss with 4029 News. We’ve had a handful of people reach out to us saying folks who were asymptomatic that are going to get tested for COVID-19 have been told that they now have to pay $170 to get tested since I don’t have symptoms. Have you heard anything about that? And do you think that’s deterring people from getting tested?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  28:26

Do you want me…? Stephanie, you want to come and answer that or? Yeah, Dr. Romero, have one or two tackle it.

Melissa Zygowicz – THV11  28:37

So we’ve not heard of that, but there is no reason to charge more because you have no symptoms. Again, I want to say what I’ve said from the podium in the past, if you come to a local health unit, you can be tested, free of charge, we’ll take your insurance information in case we can charge insurance, but if there is if you cannot pay there will be no charge. If there is some is charging you or if you are being charged, that is not from the local health department and I’m not sure why they’re charging you more to have the test done. I think we will try to look into this as much as possible, but it’s not coming from the health department. This is Melissa Zygowicz with THV 11. For students who are out of state, Have we started including them in our daily case count?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  29:31 The answer is yes. So if they’re, and I think I had some might have misstated that early on. But the information is that if they come here to Arkansas, and they’re tested here as a student and those will be included on our testing results. Anything else? Let me go back to that one question on the someone who is asymptomatic, that goes in for a test. If they’re asymptomatic, they will go into some facilities and they might say that you’re not qualified to take the test. But if you go to the Department of Health, then and you’re asymptomatic, they will give that to you. And of course, it will be free of charge, unless they can build the insurance. So everybody that is a symptomatic once a test, that’s a good solution for you to coordinate that with the Department of Health, their local health unit, and obviously also you can you go in you can always if you go into another clinic, feel free to ask question question, what’s this going to cost me? And so that way you could make a good consumer choice there. With that, thank you for joining us today and we’ll be back tomorro