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Coronavirus in Arkansas: Governor Hutchinson discusses lawsuit filed by group of legislators

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- On Thursday, Governor Asa Hutchinson addressed a lawsuit filed by a group of legislators questioning the executive authority in the health emergency.

Governor Hutchinson said it’s not really an attack on the Arkansas Department of Health, but an attack on the broad executive authority that he as the governor acted on during the emergency.

Hutchinson said the actions are based on what the general assembly gave him authority to do in December 2018.

The governor said seven of the legislators who filed the suit were on the committee that approved this in December 2018.

According to Governor Hutchinson, the legislators think the general assembly should be able to review and rewrite the Department of Health’s guidelines.

Hutchinson said there is a national emergency. All 50 states have declared an emergency and President Donald Trump has declared an emergency.

The governor said the legislators could meet to take action to end the emergency.

Governor Hutchinson said if the emergency ended, virtual education, telemedicine, expediting licenses to medical professionals, liability protection, eNotary and the signing of wills would be impacted.

Hutchinson said it’s important that St. Rep. Dan Sullivan and the other 17 legislators disclose every donor that contributed to file the lawsuit.

Governor Hutchinson announced Thursday there are an additional 969 COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths. That brings the state’s total to 63,081 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 861 deaths.

Secretary of Health Dr. José Romero said nine of the deaths reported were in nursing homes.

Dr. Romero said there was a cluster of deaths in Mississippi County, where eight of the nine nursing home deaths occurred.

According to Romero, there was one death report that was delayed.

The secretary of health said there are eight counties that reported 20 or more new COVID-19 cases: Washington County (211), Pulaski County (90), Benton County (47), Jefferson County (38), Sebastian County (36), Saline County (33), Faulkner County (27) and Craighead County (25).

Hutchinson said 81% of the new positive cases reported in Washington County are between the ages of 18 and 24. The governor said these could be college students.

Dr. Romero said half of the newly-reported positive cases in Jefferson County are people aged 18 to 24, which could be college students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The governor warned college students to be careful, especially as we head into Labor Day weekend.

Governor Hutchinson said 425 people are hospitalized across the state due to COVID-19, which is a decrease of 10.

Hutchinson said 7,827 tests were completed Wednesday.

Dr. Romero said commercial and private labs completed 5,082 tests, the Arkansas Department of Health completed 2,374 tests and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences completed 371 tests.

The governor said the state received a letter from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield indicating there could be a vaccine available as early as November 1 and the state needs to be ready. Governor Hutchinson said state officials need to know more direction on what is specifically needed.

Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections Solomon Graves announced on Thursday that starting next Tuesday, the Department of Corrections (DOC) will resume the intake of male inmates at the Ouachita River Unit. Graves said intake was paused in June because of an outbreak. According to the Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, they will start bringing in men in groups of 50. Graves said there are currently 1,484 male inmates are backed up in county jails.

The Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections also announced through a partnership with Wellpath LLC and the Department of Health, the DOC will be able to electronically process lab results and will quicken their results.

Graves also announced starting next month, his department will phase in in-person visits at prisons.

Education Secretary Johnny Key announced two additional districts had moved to a virtual setting temporarily. The Jacksonville North Pulaski School District (JNPSD) decided to have virtual classes for Jacksonville Middle School on Friday. According to Key, the primary reason was because of the number of staff under quarantine. The education secretary said Earle Elementary School will also have virtual classes from Thursday through September 17 due to 50% of the staff is under quarantine.

Key said more students have been impacted with the weather than the coronavirus in the last two weeks.

You can watch the full news conference above.

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