Seeming frustrated by reports that some people in Arkansas are not abiding by social distancing recommendations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday he is issuing a directive that will give law enforcement the power to enforce limits on gatherings.
The state has recommended people avoid indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people and keep a distance of six feet between one another during the current health crisis.
Hutchinson said it’s an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, with 62 new cases reported during Wednesday’s press briefing, bringing the total number of infected people to 280. By 5 p.m. the Department of Health said that number has risen to 301.
If the public doesn’t take the guideline seriously, the governor said more drastic steps may be needed.
"I do not want to go to a shelter in place environment. I do not want to shut down our manufacturing or our other than essential businesses. I do not want to go to this step," Hutchinson said.
Expanded in-state testing, he said, had given Arkansas "a good flavor of where we are in tracking the spread of COVID-19."
Four counties in the state have had the most number of positive tests, according to the Department of Health’s website.
- Pulaski: 79
- Cleburne: 41
- Faulkner: 23
- Jefferson: 22
Meanwhile, in anticipation of a shortage of doctors and nurses, Hutchinson is asking licensing boards to temporarily expedite the approval process. He said that has enabled the state to license over 100 new physicians and over 300 new nurses so far this month.
"I applaud both the medical board, the nursing board and other licensure boards that are really meeting the need and the urgency of the current health crisis."
Also Wednesday, Hutchinson said he had signed a proclamation to convene a special session of the Arkansas Legislature starting Thursday at 1 p.m. Lawmakers are to consider measures to address a budget shortfall caused the closing of businesses and loss in state revenue.
The Senate will convene at the state Capitol, while the House will meet at the Jack Stephens Center on the UA Little Rock campus. That will allow representatives and their staff more space to try and avoid spreading the virus.