LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After months of forging a path through the pandemic largely independent of recommendations from the White House Task Force, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson used the weekly report to deliver dire warnings ahead of the holidays.
"Arkansas is on the precipice of a rapid accelerating increase in cases, which will be followed with new hospital admissions," the Republican governor said, quoting from the weekly report that typically avoids getting too localized despite months of mostly regional outbreaks.
"This is like a boulder rolling down a hill," said Dr. Jose Romero, the state secretary of health. "There will come a time when we cannot stop it. It will continue to escalate and eventually it will overwhelm our health care facilities."
For now, hospitals have been stretched near capacity, particularly in intensive care units, but as of Monday the governor indicated they are holding their own. But it's the predictions of the next few weeks that Hutchinson stressed in his weekly media briefing.
"Arkansas will have an additional 1,000 Arkansans that will die as a result of COVID-19 between now and Christmas," he said.
The public health team sought to use the grim statistics to get the state's attention, but matching the strident recommendations made by White House experts does not appear to be in the future.
The Task Force would call for a reduction in restaurant capacity and limits on public, non-household gatherings to a maximum of 10 people. With the state allowing two-thirds capacity in eateries, the governor promised tighter enforcement of the rules already in place.
"Four months is a long time to be given warnings," said Mike Moore, the head of enforcement for the part of government that overseas bars and restaurants. "What I think you're going to see in the coming days is when we find people that are non-compliant, there's going to be more accountability."
Moore and the governor said so far 93 percent of inspections showed compliance. Most of the seven percent that didn't often received verbal warnings to fix the situation.
Part of the reason the governor said he didn't follow White House recommendations to the letter was because it isn't based on any knowledge or data that he doesn't already have on a state level.
And when it comes to advice on how to fight the coronavirus, the refrain is the same.
"You need to wear a mask, socially distance and guess what, if we do those things, the virus goes away and our case count goes down," he said.