Governor visits Jonesboro

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks with reporters Monday in Jonesboro.

JONESBORO — While governors and mayors across the U.S. are ratcheting up COVID-19 restrictions amid a record-breaking resurgence of the coronavirus, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said once again Monday Arkansas won’t be doing that.

“I thought that one of the medical professionals nationally made the point that, you know, you can’t really shut businesses down and take away people’s livelihood unless you’re going to compensate them for it,” Hutchinson told The Sun Monday. “That’s sort of a fundamental point, and there’s not a plan to do that. So I don’t believe we ought to be shutting down businesses further, unless there’s absolutely no alternative to it.”

Hutchinson, who was in Jonesboro participating in announcing Nice-Pak’s plans to expand its Jonesboro plant to meet pandemic demand for its products, said he will continue to emphasize the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.

“And whenever you do that, you keep the economy moving and you don’t have to close businesses down,” he said.

Regarding announced new restrictions in numerous states by Democrat and Republican governors alike, he said no states are shutting down.

“When people say, ‘You’ve got to shelter in place, you’ve got to have a lockdown, they’re really not locking down,” Hutchinson stressed. “Because people that work for essential industries continue to go to work. We have to provide our food and our resources. So I think it’s a much more supportive strategy and that is to let’s do the responsible thing. We all know what we need to do and most people by and large are doing that. Let’s hope it gets us through it.”

The governor said state regulators are sending enforcement officers into bars and restaurants for compliance checks.

“There are citations that are issued, so that is being done,” Hutchinson said.

“Now the second question is in the routine businesses, and those are local law enforcement decisions. As long as they are out there educating, I’m good with that. But we all need to comply and if we need to have tougher enforcement, that’s a decision that local law enforcement has to make in combination of our municipal officials.”

A newly formed task force dealing with the coronavirus in Arkansas met for the first time Monday, a day when COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a new high of 861 in the state.

The Winter COVID-19 Task Force has been assigned to discuss how to deal with Arkansas’ surge in virus cases and hospitalizations.

The task force includes 19 physicians, state officials and health care executives, including Chris Barber, chief executive of St. Bernards Healthcare of Jonesboro.

“We’re continuing to work hard to reduce the cases, reduce the burden on our hospitals and hospital workers,” Hutchinson said.

Barber said said the primary focus is on hospitalizations, bed capacity, staffing needs and whether enough protective equipment is available throughout the state and how to appropriately transfer patients to other facilities.

But Barber said the discussions will go beyond that.

“What are our thoughts and strategies – how do we continue to slow down the spread and enhance mask compliance,” Barber said. “I think it was a great start and I applaud the governor for pulling this group together.”

Barber said the group or subcommittees will meet multiple times per month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

inman@jonesborosun.com