LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday repeated his opposition to shutting down businesses and schools to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Hutchinson, speaking in an interview with Talk Business & Politics editor Roby Brock, said closing restaurants and other businesses would not be fair to owners who have followed state health directives and have worked to keep their facilities safe. The Republican governor has ordered restaurants, bars and clubs to limit their hours amid a surge in new cases but said stricter measures are "not the direction we should go."
"It is just as wrong as can be for the government to come in and say 'you've got to shut down again' -- even though you're doing everything right and you're not having any cases come out of there -- because there's a lot of pressure that we ought to shut down businesses," Hutchinson said. "That is just not what we're going to do."
The White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended this week that the state reduce indoor restaurant capacity from 66% to 25% but Hutchinson declined, citing economic concerns. He said Friday that "we don't have any data that says [restaurants] have been a problem."
Dozens of schools have temporarily shifted to online-only learning as cases have risen. The possibility of a post-Thanksgiving surge has raised questions about whether schools should resume in-person classes after the holiday.
Hutchinson said Friday that he will not order a shift to online-only learning. He said it will remain an option for schools and not a requirement.
"If you have the schools that go all virtual, what's going to happen to the teenagers? What's going to happen to the young people? Are they going to sit at home all day long? I doubt it," he said.
Hutchinson is scheduled to address hospital capacity during a news conference Friday afternoon. He said a panel of physicians, healthcare executives and elected officials are looking to improve coordination between hospitals across the state to manage the rising number of virus patients. The panel is also examining how to move certain virus patients out of hospitals more quickly and place them in short-term care centers.
More than 270 Arkansas doctors signed a letter this week asking Hutchinson to do more to stop the “unchecked” spread of the virus. Among the group's requests was enforcement of a statewide mask mandate.
Hutchinson said Friday that enforcing the mandate is "not something within my capacity" and that it must be handled by local law enforcement.