Gov. Hutchinson: Cities do not have greater authority than State of Arkansas on COVID-19 restrictions

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FORT SMITH, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday he extended the public health emergency for another 45 days, which includes an executive order that says only the Secretary of Health, in consultation with the governor, has the authority to make restrictions related to COVID-19.

“The Secretary of Health may issue orders of isolation or quarantine as necessary and appropriate to control the spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “And the Secretary of Health, in consultation with the governor, shall have sole authority over all instances of quarantine, isolation and restrictions on commerce and travel throughout the state. Cities and counties shall not impose any restrictions of commerce or travel upon citizens that is more restrictive than a directive or guideline that is issued by the Secretary of Health in consultation with the governor.”

The governor said if a city rule is more restrictive than the state rule, then it’s preempted by the state rule. Hutchinson said a city rule cannot be more restrictive.

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 13,928 total COVID-19 cases and 208 deaths, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson. That is an increase of 322 cases and 11 deaths from Wednesday.

The governor said he was told by Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Medical Director Immunizations at the Arkansas Department of Health, 10 of the 11 new deaths reported were 65 years or older.

Of the new cases, the governor said 46 are from Washington County, 33 are from Benton County, 23 are from Pulaski County and the rest of the counties have fewer than 20 new cases. Hutchinson also mentioned Sebastian and Crawford counties each have six new cases.

State officials say 226 people are hospitalized in Arkansas due to the coronavirus. That is an increase of nine from Wednesday.

Dr. Dillaha said there are currently 4,344 active cases. Of the active cases, 142 are nursing home residents, 644 are in correctional facilities and 3,558 are in communities, according to Dillaha.

Hutchinson said the number of hospitalizations is a concern. He said there are more than enough hospital rooms statewide, but they are watching each region carefully.

The governor said 6,654 tests were completed Wednesday.

The governor announced Thursday 86,814 tests have been done so far. The goal for June is 120,000 tests completed, which would be four percent of the population tested.

Hutchinson said the trend line for the state is flattening, which he likes and would like for it to keep going.

Hutchinson also noted the seven-day rolling average of new cases in the northwest region is going down. The governor said he hopes that that will continue to decrease.

Gov. Hutchinson said as of Thursday, the hospitalizations in the northwest region have flatlined. He said while he hopes that will continue, the hospitalizations might increase due to the increase of cases.

Hutchinson said while the trendline is going down in every region right now, it doesn’t mean it’ll continue.

Dr. Dillaha said it’s important to maintain a six-foot distance, wear cloth face coverings, wash hands frequently and don’t make unnecessary trips but go about your business.

“Children going to school or university will not be able to remain safe if parents are not safe,” said Dillaha. “Parents are not safe if their workplace is not safe. Nursing home residents won’t be safe if visitors are not safe.”

Dillaha said we all need to work together and to do our part.

The governor was in Fort Smith Thursday due to the first meeting of the Law Enforcement Task Force.

Governor Hutchinson said he ended the state of emergency due to civil unrest. The governor also said the unified command is no longer operational.

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