In his daily press conference Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson addressed questions about enhancing the state’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic with additional mandatory business shutdowns or other measures states around the United States have taken in recent days.
“We have to produce. We have to have the supply chain. We have to have items in the grocery store. We have to have our utilities on, lights and gas,” Hutchinson said.
He said he is wary of increasing business shutdowns since it is unclear at this time how long the pandemic will last, noting that other states’ shutdowns have often been made up of very broad guidelines. He said Saturday the peak of the virus’s spread is expected to come in six to eight weeks; today he said the public health crisis could last eight to 12 weeks.
If Arkansans act responsibly by following Centers for Disease Control and Arkansas Department of Health guidelines on social distancing and stopping community spread, Hutchinson said, we shouldn’t have to shut down the whole state to keep the curve of the spread low.
“If we’re going to be in this for some time, what do we need to do? That’s where we’re trying to get the right balance,” he said. “Let’s go as far as we can in terms of our personal lives and responsibility, distancing and the health guidelines consistent with whenever we can engage in business and manufacturing that has the safety precautions in place, then we’re going the right direction. We’re doing the right thing here.”
The governor said he is not currently concerned about the supply chain into Arkansas for regular goods like food, but noted that transportation costs have risen since the pandemic broke out stateside.
“The demand for it has increased, the shipment of goods,” he said. “The price has gone up some on the logistics, transportation in the supply chain. … But in Arkansas, we’ve got a great supply chain, from Walmart to the clothing industry to agriculture, and we’ve got great truckers, transportation companies, so I don’t see that as an issue except in some of our overseas shipments.”
He noted that he has seen supply chain problems in seeking out PPE. He said the state received 24 pallets of PPE Monday night from the National Strategic Stockpile and expects one million units, including items like masks, gloves and surgical gowns, to arrive in Arkansas this weekend.
This supply would last health care workers 60 days if the rate of usage stays the same, Hutchinson said; however, since the rate of positive cases is rising every day, the supplies will probably last less time than that.
Hutchinson also addressed the high volume of individuals filing for unemployment across the state, saying the 24-hour hotline service has helped to ease the burden the state’s online filing system was facing. He said issues with the web service are being addressed to allow it to handle all the cases it will see through the pandemic. The hotline number is 1-855-255-4440.
On Monday, Hutchinson announced that the state would likely see a budget shortfall for fiscal year 2021 in the range of $353 million. He said Tuesday that he has asked the General Assembly to meet for a special budget session on Thursday.
“This is important to make sure that we can continue to meet the essential needs of state government during this emergency health crisis that we have,” he said. “That is why this is urgent action. It is important to get everybody together in a quick fashion in order to make the budget adjustments that are needed.”
Some of Arkansas’s key industries are among those deemed essential during the large-scale shut down of many ‘nonessential’ businesses, including the transportation and logistics industry, the defense industry and the agricultural industry.
However, even large corporate outfits are currently scaling back expenses. Murphy Oil announced a 35% capital expenditure cut last week and Hobby Lobby announced a wage cut for employees over the weekend.
The state is offering resources for small business owners impacted by the pandemic; more information about those is available at arkansasedc.com/covid19.