LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday rejected a White House task force’s recommendation that Arkansas close bars and implement other restrictions, despite the state posting the 9th highest rate of positive coronavirus tests in the country.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force issued the recommendation in a weekly report to the state that was first obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
Hutchinson said he didn’t see a need for shutting bars down because the state had not linked an increase in cases to activity at them. The Republican governor said the state was trying to strike the right balance.
“These are small business people who are hurting,” Hutchinson, who noted that the state is already limiting bars and restaurants to two-thirds capacity.
The governor noted that the task force had moved the state out of the “red zone” for positivity rates because it was no longer above 10%. The state, however, remained in the “red zone” in another area, reporting more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week.
“Obviously, when you look at the information on positivity and where they say we rank, we want to do better,” Hutchinson said. “That’s a word of admonishment or recognition that we need to continue to focus and take this virus seriously.”
The recommendations also included new limits on restaurant dining room capacity and social gatherings for parts of the state with a large number of new cases and high positive test rates. The panel also recommended some restrictions already in place in Arkansas, including a statewide requirement to wear masks in public to prevent the virus’s spread.
The state on Tuesday reported 480 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total infections since the pandemic began to 57,374. Of those, 5,312 are active and exclude those who have died or recovered.
The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The number of deaths from COVID-19 rose to 711, while the number of people hospitalized from it dropped by 24 to 442.
Hutchinson also said he was challenging the health department to find ways to increase the state’s testing numbers after it dropped, which health officials said was due in part to a lack of demand. The state reported 3,300 tests were conducted Monday, a steep drop from recent days.