LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — In a media conference on April 5, Governor Asa Hutchinson addressed a range of topics, including new measures to fight crime in the state, the imminent departure of the Arkansas Secretary of Health and a possible run for President of the United States.
At approximately 1:32 p.m., the Governor began by noting that he would be joined by Dr. Romero and Solomon Graves, the Arkansas Secretary of the Department of Corrections. The Governor then addressed recent recommendations from the CDC and the FDA regarding a second COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for immunocompromised individuals and those over age 50.
“It might come as a surprise to folks, but I qualify,” he joked, before sitting down and receiving his second booster shot with a broad smile on his face. “COVID is not totally in the rearview mirror,” he added before encouraging those at any step of the vaccination process to receive their relevant booster or vaccine shot.
He also commented on “natural immunity” received from contracting the virus, and noted that “that immunity does not last forever.” He then announced that Dr. Romero has accepted a “very high-level position” with the CDC in Atlanta, where he will work on a national basis. The Governor noted that, regarding the Secretary’s resignation, he “accepted it with great gratitude.”
Dr. Romero took to the podium and reinforced the Governor’s statements about natural immunity not being as effective as vaccination. It “does not persist,” he said. “Get your second booster.”
He then proceeded to thank many people, including the staff at the Arkansas Department of Health, and noted that “the public health officials are also the heroes of this.” He mentioned receiving many letters and comments of support, and teared up as he concluded by thanking his wife.
Governor Hutchinson then moved on to a rise in violent crime, something he deemed “a challenge for our state and our nation.” He noted that the metropolitan Little Rock area “has its unique challenges” in that regard.
He announced a plan to implement an expansion of the Intensive Supervision Program, which involves helping give parolees “a second start in life.” The program also seeks to identify “those that pose a greater risk than others.” The program currently has four officers in Pulaski County and seeks to add 10 more that will cover territory in five Arkansas counties.
The proposed expansion, which requires approval from the general assembly, would cost just over $1 million in its first year, and an expected $820,000 annually after that.
“This will make a difference,” the Governor said, and he stated that a “critical element” of the program is to send violent offenders back to prison. He also noted that possession of a firearm is illegal for parolees.
He also addressed the recent shooting in Dumas, and observed that these were first-time offenders that would not have been involved in the supervision program. He also took issue with one of the suspects being released on a $100,000 bond. “I don’t understand that, quite frankly,” he said.
The Governor and Sec. Graves also spoke about the crowded conditions in Arkansas jails, and their desire to address that issue. “Let’s relieve that burden,” the Governor said. Graves added that two key factors in doing so are “evidence-based rehabilitation programming” and adequate resources for compliance of supervision, to which he added, “This ISP will do that.”
After approximately twenty minutes, Governor Hutchinson took a few questions from the media and addressed the fact that citizens can still get tested or vaccinated against COVID for free. But he took issue with the idea of imposing another round of restrictions down the road in case of another spike.
“I disagree with Dr. Fauci,” he stated. He confirmed that increasing the overall vaccination rate is still the best way to address the virus.
When asked about last week’s tornado that caused severe damage in Northwest Arkansas, the Governor noted that “he grew up in Springdale,” he has spoken to Mayor Sprouse, and that, “As needed, I will be there in the community.”
The final topic of the day regarded his possible intent to run for President.
“I’m fully focused on being Governor,” he replied. “That’s my responsibility.” But he noted that he is concerned about matters “nationally and globally” and “that option is open down the road.”