Gov. Asa Hutchinson has been holding daily press briefings broadcast live online for months since the Covid-19 became a public health threat, but in mid-September, about six weeks before the Nov. 3 election, Hutchinson stopped the daily press briefings.
The Arkansas Department of Health stopped regular email reports to the media on cases in nursing homes and changed reporting on occupational cluster outbreaks to include only the category instead of the name of workplaces with more than five active cases of Covid-19.
“Yes, most of the information is available online, but the reporters aren’t able to ask pertinent questions I think are important for everyone to hear,” resident watchdog Crystal Ursin said. “It’s like state officials are trying to hide information other than what they are willing to provide. They are avoiding the difficult questions, in my opinion. Is this allowing Hutchinson to post on his Facebook page that the Covid numbers are looking great?”
“We had twenty deaths in Arkansas yesterday,” Ursin said on Sept. 28. “I don’t consider those great numbers. It seems very suspicious that we are getting less information right before the election. Trump has been trying to hide the numbers. It almost seems Gov. Hutchinson is doing the same thing. Until now, I thought he was doing a good job with his press briefing.”
One thing she liked about his press briefings was they included presentations were made from health professionals such as Interim Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero, and State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha. Dillaha has warned that there is community spread of Covid-19 in Arkansas, meaning that the virus is spreading widely in the state and people can be infected without known exposure to someone with Covid-19 or travel to areas where there is a major outbreak.
Eureka Springs saw big crowds last weekend when large numbers of motorcyclists showed up and attended events and patronized bars where it appeared few people were socially distancing or wearing masks. Ursin said this doesn’t bode well for the local spread of Covid-19.
“The local outbreak is not doing well,” Ursin said. “We had 13 cases in just one day recently in Carroll County. From August 22 to September 22, we have had 200 new cases and two new deaths in Carroll County.”
Ursin said businesses should be required to put a sign on the door and post on social media when they have had an employee or customer test positive for Covid-19. She responds to social media posts from people who deny Covid-19 is a major health threat. “They keep saying, ‘I’m a healthy person. I’m not going to get sick.’
“Anyone can get sick and have side effects that can last weeks to months to possible years,” Ursin said. “Then you have the people with no symptoms who could be asymptomatic carriers.”
Eureka Springs resident Doug Stowe also had concerns about the curtailed Covid-19 reporting.
“I felt the governor’s reporting, except for a few minor discrepancies, was honest and helped people understand things like the importance of wearing masks,” Stowe said. “We have a new death in Carroll County, and 13 new cases. I keep track of it, but I have to go elsewhere beyond what the governor reports to get my information. Now there is a big push to open everything up like was done in Florida even though we know very clearly from research that restaurants and bars are major sources of spread.
“I’m very much concerned that people think it is okay to just catch it and get over it without realizing this could lead to overloading our hospitals,” Stowe said. “I understand why people are tired of masks, of having to stay home, of kids not being in school, and tired of the fear that we face in our lives. So, I can understand why people just want to go out and party like we had with the large number of motorcyclists this past weekend.”
If motorcyclists caught Covid-19 while visiting, they are not likely to be counted in Carroll County’s totals.
“I know this can overwhelm a community,” Stowe said. “How many people in areas with major outbreaks were not able to get treatment because hospitals were overloaded? It hasn’t happened here, but it sure happened in Texas and New York. And don’t you think we would care about our doctors and nurses, and protect them as much as we can? If we can lessen the spread of the disease by 75-80 percent just by wearing masks, and lessen the strain on doctors, nurses and hospitals, don’t you think we should do that?”
He also advises that people who catch Covid-19 and recover will then have a pre-existing condition on their medical record. That is a concern as the U.S. Supreme Court is currently taking up a challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act that required insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. This could leave Covid survivors without health insurance.
“It is called the novel coronavirus because it is new and we don’t know the full effect it has on people,” Stowe said. “There could be long-term health impacts because of the damage the virus can cause to the heart, lungs and other organs.”