Boozman visits NEA, Hutchinson tours state regarding virus

U.S. Sen. John Boozman (left) made several stops in Northeast Arkansas last week, including a visit with WBU President Stan Norman and others on the Williams Baptist campus in Walnut Ridge.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman was in Northeast Arkansas Friday to meet with education and healthcare officials about the coronavirus public health crisis.

Also this week Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office released plans for the Governor to hold community meetings to focus on actions to fight the COVID surge. The meetings are to be held in accordance with Arkansas Department of Health guidelines, including those for social distancing and masks.

A community meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today at the Red Wolf Convention Center in Jonesboro.

More community meetings are expected to be added. Hutchinson also plans to address the state at 7 p.m. this evening. The broadcast will be available through various media outlets.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 39 more COVID-19 deaths statewide on Tuesday. Total deaths in the state have totaled 2,752. Total cases in the state have totaled 174,325, and there were 18,461 active cases as of Tuesday.

The number of total confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Jackson County on Tuesday was 2,184, with 471 active cases. There have been 1,702 recovered cases in Jackson County and 11 deaths reported.

Scheduled stops for Boozman Friday included Arkansas Methodist Medical Center in Paragould, Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, and a meeting with McCrory School District leaders.

Boozman said that as far as the federal government and legislature is concerned, the best thing that can be done to help the state and the country is to continue to provide funding to hospitals to help them fight COVID-19.

“And we are getting advice on what to work on in the future,” he said, while in Paragould. “But right now, it’s money.”

Boozman acknowledged the existence of two proposed stimulus packages in the Congress, one which would provide $908 billion in aid, and a smaller one of $500 billion.

“I like the $500 billion version” he said, “because it’s more targeted.”

As reported by the Seattle Times on Dec. 3, the $908 billion package has bipartisan support. Boozman said he expected a final package would likely be somewhere between the two figures.

“And this is not a stimulus package,” he said. “It’s a survival package.”

When asked what he would do differently from what Gov. Hutchinson has done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boozman had nothing but praise for the governor.

“The governor has done a tremendous job in a difficult situation,” he said. “He’s been dealing with issues no one else has had to deal with.”

Last week the White House Coronavirus Task Force had reported that Arkansas remains in the “red zone” for new coronavirus cases and 88 percent of the state’s counties have moderate or high community transmission of the virus.

The Task Force had ranked Arkansas 24th in the country for new cases per capita. The state’s test positivity ranked 30th, according to the panel, which again recommended restaurants in the state limit indoor dining capacity to less than 25 percent, a proposal Hutchinson has rejected as virus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached record levels.

Boozman noted the federal government has provided the state $1.25 billion to help fight the pandemic.

“The challenge now is the vaccine,” he said.

The Board of Trustees at Williams Baptist University welcomed Boozman to their regularly scheduled meeting on Friday.

Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU, briefed the board on the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the university has been able to maintain in-person instruction throughout the fall semester and plans to continue doing so in the spring semester.

“The pandemic has presented multiple challenges to our campus, and it has impacted a number of families that are dear to us. We have taken this very seriously,” Norman said. “WBU has taken a proactive approach toward contact tracing, quarantines and isolation for those who test positive, and that approach has enabled us to keep the campus open.”

Norman noted that WBU has had options for students to attend classes virtually, enabling them to keep up with their coursework if placed in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.

Steve Gillespie and Gretchen Hunt with The Independent contributed to this article.

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