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GREG HARTON: Do as we're told or as we're asked?

by Greg Harton | June 14, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's daily covid-19 press conference on Friday delivered the eye-popping figure of 731 new positive test results in the state since the day before. It was the largest single-day growth in positive tests since Arkansas discovered its first case back in March.

As of Friday, Arkansas had topped 11,500 positive tests, with 3,764 active cases. Of particular note here in our neck of the woods, Washington County posted the highest number of positives at 220. Benton County rolled in at No. 2 with 91 new positives. Madison County, which hadn't before climbed into higher numbers, posted 32 positives, which Hutchinson noted was "significant" for a lesser-populated, rural county.

Sebastian County showed some growth, too, at 24 cases.

Hutchinson chose not to schedule any press conferences for the weekend. Can't blame him. He predicted Friday that the huge numbers, particularly here in Northwest Arkansas, will continue "until we get a handle on that and reduce that spread."

I don't always think social media gives an accurate sense the reactions in the "real world," but covid-19 and working from home forces a bit more reliance on it. On Friday afternoon, I noted a number of people criticized Hutchinson's strategy for the state as not working.

Hutchinson says he believes it the right strategy, if one factors in the dual crises of the coronavirus and the impact to Arkansas' economy. I asked on Twitter for people who disagreed that Hutchinson's approach to offer me their preferred strategies. I put up a poll with four options, then asked Twitter users to send me direct messages if they had broader ideas.

As for the poll responses, they aren't a scientific approach and represent a ridiculously small sampling of Twitter users. I'm just using them for conversational purposes.

Mandating the use of masks got the most votes. That's a measure Hutchinson rejected outright Friday, saying "it's just not Arkansas" and entirely unenforceable.

Reinstating restrictions on businesses was second, but removing all restrictions got a little support. Establishing a stay-at-home mandate or a shelter-in-place order got very little support.

One Twitter user said it needs to be clear that businesses have authority to refuse service to people who will not wear masks. Moving on to Phase 2, as Hutchinson announced last week the state will do on Monday, "is madness right now," the tweeter said.

Another said Phase 2 of business reopenings shouldn't be an option until the state sees a downward trend on positive tests for a significant period. That Twitter user said the state should provide support for all essential workers, to safeguard them and ensure they have access to care.

Granted, it's Twitter, but I really didn't see much else that didn't amount to just criticism of Hutchinson's plan rather than actual ideas for what should be done differently.

Hutchinson's message has been clear: Arkansas' economy does not need more business restrictions, it needs less; and Arkansans, if they want to stem the tide of infections, are going to have to voluntarily step up to be serious about measures public health professionals say will make the biggest difference: stay home or away from others in the public as much as possible, keep six feet between yourself and others when in public, wear masks when that's not possible, and wash hands often and thoroughly.

Whether our governor was Asa Hutchinson or Mike Beebe, Bill Clinton or Mike Huckabee, I suspect any worthwhile strategy would have to balance the needs of Arkansas' businesses -- not just huge corporations, but its many small businesses -- with measures designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. And they'd all recognize restrictive mandates on their fellow citizens won't be tolerated for long.

Ultimately, we Arkansans are going to have to behave as though we're all in this together, for we most certainly are.


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