FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced Wednesday that Arkansas will move into Phase II in its restriction-rollback plan. A Fayetteville hospital’s chief operating officer contested part of the reasoning given for this decision.
“Today, I am announcing that we are lifting further restrictions, and we are announcing as a state that we’re moving to Phase II,” Hutchinson said.
Under the new guidelines, all venues can move to two-thirds capacity as long as they allow for social distancing. This comes as Northwest Arkansas continues to see a spike in cases, and the state is at an all-time high in active cases and hospitalizations. Hutchinson announced Wednesday there were 44 new cases in Washington County and 37 in Benton County.
“[The] active number is over 3,000 active cases in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson announced targeted response efforts for Northwest Arkansas:
- Identification of multi-lingual staff members who will dedicate contact tracing efforts in NWA
- Increased staffing to conduct additional compliance inspections and respond to any complaints for restaurants and cosmetology
- Continued testing in local test units and partnerships with organizations for more mass-testing events
- An “Epi Aid” team sent by the CDC made up of 4-5 bilingual staff to assist with response efforts for the Latin-X community
- Amplified messaging through social media, digital platforms, television, and multi-lingual printed materials
Businesses are seeing a low-infection rate, Hutchinson said, which played into the decision to move into Phase II. Department of Health contact tracers interview each person who tests positive and interviews them about their contacts and places they’ve been, said spokesperson Gavin Lesnick.
“This helps us identify close contact who need to self-quarantine, and it also gives us insight into the different places the patient visited in the two weeks before diagnosis,” Lesnick said. “The figures are very low for each category.”
Back in May, the CDC released its guidelines for reopening. It said states should look for a downward trajectory of documented cases over a two-week span, and that’s simply to get to Phase I. Phase II calls for further documented case drops. By this recommendation, Arkansas doesn’t meet the criteria for any reopening phase.
“There’s been more testing in all of our states, including Arkansas, and therefore we have an increase in the number of cases,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said there’s no data to suggest Phase I reopening led to any increase in positive cases. Instead, he pointed to increased testing as the reason for spikes.
“Our data in Arkansas tells us that the growth rate in cases is not the result of lifting restrictions,” Hutchinson said. “There’s no evidence of a correlation.”
Birch Wright is Washington Regional’s Chief Operating Officer, and a statement released Wednesday disputes the governor’s claim.
“We are not seeing more hospitalizations simply because more testing is being done,” Wright said. “We are seeing more hospitalizations because more people in our area are being infected with the virus.”
The restriction rollbacks shouldn’t be limited to the rest of the state, Hutchinson said.
“The state is best served moving together even though we have various regions with a spike in cases,” Hutchinson said.
A move toward replaced restrictions is unlikely, Hutchinson said.
“Americans are on the move, and they can’t be tied down, and they can’t be restrained,” Hutchinson said.