The Governor was joined today by Secretary of State (SOS) John Thurston and directors of both major political parties. Gave a brief history of absentee voting. Thurston has interpreted existing language regarding inability to vote because of illness to include COVID-19 concerns. The Governor fully supports this interpretation and both parties are in agreement too.
Michael John Gray, director of the Democratic Party said absentee balloting and the safety of voters are important issues. He worked with the Governor and looked at options to get things done. There will be a challenge to educate voters on how to obtain absentee ballots. The Governor and the Secretary of State have agreed to help with this education effort.
Doyle Webb, director of the Republican Party, said he supports what the Secretary of State is doing and encourages voters who are concerned about their health to request an absentee ballot. They must be requested. When the ballot is mailed back, identification is required. This is a much more secure system than simple mail-in voting. The GOP will use their best efforts to spread this message.
SOS John Thurston said elections are the bedrock of our republic and security is important; and then COVID-19 came along and made things more challenging. What will the November elections look like? CARES Act Funding is available to help. It is the SOS’ position that the election will look like all other elections with the exception that people will be wearing masks, distancing and there will be hand sanitizer available too. The SOS will purchase disposable stylus pens; this means the only thing you would have to touch is the pen, which has been used by no one else.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is Oct 27. You can get absentee ballots in person until November 2. All must be received by 7:30 pm on Election Day. There will also be two weeks of early voting. To obtain an absentee ballot contact your County Clerk, the SOS office or the SOS website. You must be a registered voter to absentee and the deadline to register is October 5.
Our cumulative total yesterday was 21,197 cases. Today we have our largest number of new cases at 878, which increases our cumulative total to 22,075.
We had a net decrease of three hospitalized lowering the total to 272.
We had two new deaths increasing the total to 279.
Top counties for new cases: Hot Spring (prison) 151, Washington 117, Pulaski 98, Benton 75, Sebastian 55, Faulkner 35, Crawford 23 and the remainder under 20.
Tested 7,089 yesterday
Looking at the graph of daily new cases, it is obvious that today’ 878 new cases is the largest single day during the pandemic. The rate of hospitalizations 7-day rolling average continues to trend down. But what will the increase in cases mean? The percent of positive tests is still trending down.
There will be canvassers out during the weekend seeking signatures on petitions. The Governor encouraged everyone to wear a mask. Some of the canvassers will be from out of state, including Arizona. Make sure both are protected.
Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of Health
Not good news to have the largest day of new cases, which is double what we had yesterday. Not necessarily due to more testing but some is related to where they are doing the testing. But still concerned.
Of the 878 new cases at least 150 are in prisons. Of the 22,075 cumulative total, 6,098 are active.
We had a slight net decrease in hospitalizations of three. Currently there are 69 on ventilators, which is up three.
To date 15,698 have recovered and this is up 535.
Of the 151 new cases in Hot Spring County, most if not all are in the prison. In Pulaski County about half are in Little Rock and a quarter in North Little Rock. Washington County going up 117 is a concern. Have been trying to increase testing in Washington County.
Dr. Smith presented a complicated slide. Should not use antibody tests while someone has active case. The amount of virus early on could be very low, and a test could be negative. By the time they have symptoms they will be positive, if not something else is causing their issues. So, when someone comes in contact with someone infected and they go get tested and turn up negative, don’t relax. They can then expose others. So quarantine is needed regardless of whether the test is positive. If you know you have been in contact, you need to self-quarantine.
Any idea for the reason in the spike in cases and are you concerned?
The Governor said when you look at surrounding states you see upward trends and spikes. A large part of our spike is the increase in testing. Does not yet think this is a trend. Hope it is an isolated day.
Any discussion about expanding the time for early voting and/or use large venues like arenas?
The Governor said there has not been any discussion about early voting. Thinks each county should consider additional polling places. Today’s announcement is the critical part of addressing the election.
Applying for absentee ballot?
SOS Thurston said you can contact your County Clerk or download from the SOS website. You can prove your voting status by signing the ballot. Essentially absentee ballots are provisional ballots.
Why not send everyone an absentee ballot?
The SOS said it is a matter of funding. Nothing prevents clerks from sending, or anyone can copy and share with anyone. Postage to send to everyone and return mail, mailing the ballot and another return would be very expensive. In 2016, 42,000 voted absentee in Arkansas. No way to measure but Thurston would guess 100-150,000 could vote absentee this year.
Will absentee ballots be tabulated before election day?
The SOS said no.
NWA health providers say they have a bottleneck with their testing supplies?
The Governor said he has discussed this issue with the hospitals in NWA. They are using their own tests on their patients that provide a quick response and this is where they are having supply issues. Putting this in a national perspective. We are still relying upon commercial labs. With the increase in volume nationally, it is now taking 7 days to get a response. The Governor thinks a national approach should be taken to testing. There is a huge pressure point right now.
Dr. Smith added that hospitals need to focus their resources on the sick patients they are caring for and the reagents for this are in short supply. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is going to help by having some tests sent to the public health lab.
Any reason to rethink strategy after today’s spike?
The Governor said they think about this every day. The current strategy is good, but we need citizens to follow the guidelines.
What is the state’s testing supply?
The Governor said ADH is continuing to do yeoman’s work and have the supplies they need. Worried more about late July and after. Biggest challenge is the national demand on commercial labs.
Can you supplement the commercial labs?
The Governor said they have no influence on commercial labs. But the state can partner with hospitals that might be challenged.
Mass testing events in NWA have been well attended, are you concerned about testing volume?
The Governor said there needs to be a consistent message. So a coordination deal has been made to help with resources. Dr. Smith says they are continuing to test in their public health units around 700 a day. The more testing that is done outside hospitals frees up hospital resources for their sick patients.
Dr. Fauci said this week he has concerns about bars, people needed to stop congregating in bars. Do you think Arkansas needs to look at closing bars?
The Governor said you have to remember that the bars are owned by people that have invested money and have employees. You should not close them down unless there is a valid public reason to close them. If it is found that they are not following the guidelines, when there is data that correlates a bar to a number of new cases that would support a different approach.
Are you issuing an executive order on the absentee voting?
The Governor said with what they’ve done with both political parties and the SOS, this is all that is needed. Other issues will be taken on a case by case basis.
Will proof of reason for absentee voting be required?
The Governor said no, simply fear of the virus is enough.
Did we go into Phase 2 too early?
The Governor said no. It only increased volume in restaurants and opened other places but still not finding any correlation of cases to the re-openings.
Will polling places need to follow guidelines?
The Governor said yes.
What do you want the federal government to do?
The Governor said he would like to see the National Defense Production Act be invoked. It was done for ventilators but needs to expand to include testing supplies.
There will an update tomorrow.