Weekly COVID-19 and Policy Update, Vol. 11

June 12, 2020

Policy and administrative changes continue to move quickly at the state and federal level in response to COVID-19, as well as ongoing protests related to racial inequities and police violence. Arkansas Advocates for Children Families will work to keep you updated on policy news at the end of each week.

Click here to see AACF’s short-term recommendations for addressing the crisis at the state level. More pandemic-related blogs and publications are available here. And here is the Race Equity section on our website.

Racial Equity Updates

Arkansas Law Enforcement Task Force
This week, Governor Hutchinson announced the creation of a Law Enforcement Task Force that will study best practices around recruitment, retention, and training and make recommendations to the governor that will include ways to build trust between law enforcement and communities. The task force is made up of law enforcement officials, elected leaders, nonprofit advocates, and community activists. You can learn more and see the members of the committee here. The City of Little Rock also announced the members of its Independent Review Committee of the Little Rock Police Department. You can read the press release here.

Federal criminal justice reform
In the wake of the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and more than two weeks of national and international protests, House and Senate Democrats on Monday filed a new police reform bill. Drafted with help from the Congressional Black Caucus, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 contains the following major provisions:

  • Ending qualified immunity, which currently gives police officers and other public officials immunity from civil lawsuits
  • Creating a new national registry to track police misconduct
  • Banning the use of chokeholds and certain no-knock warrants at the federal level

The bill has more than 200 House and Senate co-sponsors and is expected to pass the House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for Republicans to develop their own bill in response.

COVID-19 Updates

State Updates

Arkansas passes 10,000 cases; U.S. soars past 2 million; state sees significant increase in hospitalizations; please wear a face mask
Arkansas, like most of the country, continues to struggle with a spike in COVID-19 cases. Earlier this week, Arkansas saw its total number of cases exceed 10,000, and one day later the United States surpassed 2 million total cases. By Friday, Arkansas set new one-day records with 731 new COVID-19 cases reported, including 524 via community transmission. As a result of these increases, Arkansas now has 3,764 active cases of COVID-19, which is significantly higher than at any other point of the pandemic. There are currently 203 Arkansans who are hospitalized because of COVID-19 and 176 Arkansans who have died as a result of the virus.

Emphasizing the high percentage of positive cases in people who showed no symptoms, state officials urged Arkansans to wear masks. “We have an obligation to protect our fellow citizens,” Dr. Jose Romero of the Arkansas Department of Health said Friday. “To do that, we should wear … a mask when in public.”

Governor Hutchinson said he would not require it, however. That would not be enforceable or realistic in a rural state, and it’s “just not Arkansas,” he said.

A recently published modeling study reports that universal face mask use significantly reduces the spread of COVID-19. When combined with lockdown measures, 100 percent use of face masks could prevent a second or third wave of the pandemic from occurring.

State entering phase 2 of reopening
Governor Hutchinson emphasized that people should continue to exercise personal responsibility when announcing the state is moving into Phase 2 of the reopening process starting Monday, June 15. He also relayed that he is extending the emergency order that was set to end in mid-June for an additional 45 days, saying we are not out of the woods, we are still in the middle of the woods. During Phase 2, restaurants and other venues will be able to open to two-thirds capacity, while following public health guidelines. The Governor said the state had already moved into some Phase 2 activities, but next week the state will lift capacity restrictions for restaurants and other businesses as long as they can maintain 6-foot social distancing. You can see the national guidelines for reopening here.

Governor’s certainties around COVID-19
On Monday, the Governor said when considering the future of the state under COVID-19 and the reopening of the economy, there are six things he is certain of:

  1. Regions of the state are in different stages and different trend lines for COVID-19.
  2. Future spread is unpredictable.
  3. Data show the current increase in cases is not connected to the lifting of restrictions.
  4. Increased testing helps shine a light on where challenges are and how to address them.
  5. Self- and social discipline needs to be exercised until we get a vaccine.
  6. The economy must keep moving.

First cases reported in youth lockups
The Department of Human Services reported this week that residents and employees at two juvenile detention facilities had tested positive. They include four residents and four workers at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center at Alexander and three residents and two workers at the Harrisburg Juvenile Treatment Center. Last week, the state started testing all employees and residents in all the facilities. That was after an employee at the Alexander facility tested positive. As of Friday, there were no positive tests at the Dermott Juvenile Correctional Facility or at the Mansfield Juvenile Treatment Center, though the state said some test results were pending.

Focus on Northwest Arkansas
When announcing the state’s movement into Phase 2, the Governor also said that there will be a focus on addressing the increase in cases seen in Northwest Arkansas. The state will be providing additional testing, tracing, and public health support to Benton and Washington Counties. Bilingual staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are set to arrive there today to assist with response efforts in the Latinx community. The CDC will be helping the state better understand the chains of virus transmission and how to best do outreach to the Latinx community. The state Department of Health will continue using multilingual staff dedicated to tracing efforts in the region. And there will be an increase in print, digital, and television communications in multiple languages to encourage preventive measures. The state will also be increasing staffing to enforce compliance with public health measures in response to potential complaints at restaurants and cosmetology businesses. The Governor said the state has confirmed that hospitals in the Northwest have the capacity and personal protective equipment that they need.

Washington Regional says increase in hospitalizations not due to increased testing
On Wednesday, Washington Regional, based in Fayetteville, released a press statement from its Chief Operating Officer, Birch G. Wright, saying that the increase in hospitalizations seen in Northwest Arkansas is not due to increased testing being done there, but rather an increase in the number of people being infected with the virus. “Over the past week, Washington Regional has seen a 170% increase in the number of COVID-19 tests performed at its screening clinics, a 156% increase in calls to the Washington Regional COVID-19 Hotline and a 350% increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.” Read the full statement.

School is set to reopen in August for in-classroom instruction supplemented by online learning as needed, and the state has created a plan to guide that reopening process. Arkansas Ready for Learning is: 1. The state’s plan to return to onsite instruction in August that allows for flexibility for learning options in case interruptions occur. 2. Support for districts to prepare for the start of the new school year. 3. An opportunity for teachers, parents and the community to engage in the planning process with school districts. The Department of Education has encouraged districts to create local Ready for Learning committees to plan a safe return and meet needs of students. The plan is not finalized yet, and health and safety measures are still being determined. In the case that schools may quickly need to close, the state will provide guidance for quickly pivoting to offsite learning. Read more about Arkansas Ready for Learning.

Prison stories
Central Arkansas’s NPR station KUAR has done a three-part series looking at COVID-19 in Arkansas Cummins prison in Lincoln County: Virus Spreads Through Inmate Populations and StaffThe Death of Derick Coley, and The Past and Future.

My Teacher Wears a Mask
An Arkansas Advocates board member, Dr. Nikki Edge with UAMS, has helped write a new book for children as they go back to school “My Teacher Wears a Mask.” The book is aimed at teaching kids why their instructors are wearing masks and to make masks less scary. A printable version is available.

Federal Updates

COVID rates among people with developmental and intellectual disabilities
An article this week from NPR reports that people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are four times more likely to contract and two times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the general population. Two causes noted for the higher death rates are the higher likelihood of having a pre-existing condition and living in group settings. Read more.

The economic fallout from the pandemic continues, and while the weekly total of new unemployment insurance filings has been declining, they remain at pre-COVID record highs. Last week, an additional 1.52 million people applied for unemployment benefits. Including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits that expanded unemployment benefits to self-employed and gig workers, around 30 million workers are receiving unemployment benefits. This is almost certainly an undercount, as the PUA numbers are not complete.

The May unemployment rate would have been 16.3 percent instead of the announced 13.3 percent due to errors in Bureau of Labor Statistics calculations. This would still be down from a corrected 19.7 percent in April.

Census 2020
Arkansas currently has a 55.5 percent self-response rate for the census, compared to the national average of 60.9 percent. The deadline to complete the census has been extended to October 31 from July 31. If you would like to share information about the census, Arkansas Advocates has created a resource page.


Arkansas United COVID-19 Page in SpanishPara información sobre COVID-19 en Español

Marshallese Education Initiative COVID-19 Page in MarshalleseÑan melele ko ikijeen COVID-19 ilo kajin Majõl

Marshallese Call-In Line: UAMS Northwest has a dedicated call-in center for people who speak Marshallese and suspect they need a COVID-19 test. Calls will be answered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The number is (479) 713-8708. UAMS has also established an interpretation line for health care providers to use if they need help serving Marshallese patients. It’s available 24 hours a day. For more information about that resource (for health providers only), contact Stacia Dean at SNDean (at) uams.edu or Betsy O’Connor at GEOconnor (at) uams.edu.

Applying for Assistance Programs: Legal Aid of Arkansas created a fact sheet breaking down how to apply for Medicaid, SNAP food assistance, and unemployment benefits. A Spanish version is here. Legal Aid has also created a comprehensive guide, which is available here in Spanish.

Receiving Stimulus Payments: Arkansas Advocates created a fact sheet on how to receive the federal Economic Impact Payment from the CARES Act.

Applying for Health Care Coverage After Losing a Job: People who have lost their workplace health care coverage in the last 60 days due to the pandemic may be eligible for a marketplace qualifying health plan. You can determine your options with the Arkansas Insurance Department at 1-844-355-3262 or www.myarinsurance.com.

Guidance for those with Underlying Health Conditions: The CDC has produced these guidelines for those with underlying health conditions during the COVID-19 crisis.

Arkansas 211: 211 is a free, statewide telephone service that connects individuals in need to important community services in the state of Arkansas like food pantries, health programs, crisis intervention, shelters, and more. Just call “211.”

Applying for Unemployment Insurance: There is a new option to apply for unemployment insurance online or by phone. You can apply here.

Self-Employed Workers Unemployment Assistance: Gig and self-employed workers can now apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance here.

Applying for Medicaid, ARKids First (children’s health insurance), or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps): The Department of Human Services has made changes encouraging the public to avoid in-person visits to DHS county offices and is allowing fewer people in the lobbies at the same time, increasing wait times. People are encouraged to apply online at www.Access.Arkansas.gov or to use the phone application option by calling 1-855-372-1084. County offices will be installing drop-off boxes for paper applications. And required SNAP interviews may be conducted by phone rather than in person.

WIC (nutrition assistance program for Women, Infants and Children): Contact your county Department of Health office for information on how to apply.

Department of Health Updates: You can get the latest COVID-19 updates from the Department of Health here.

Finding a food pantry: Some pantries may be closed, so call ahead to confirm.

Arkansas Foodbank pantry map

Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas food pantry network

Harvest Regional Food Bank (Texarkana)

Food Bank of North Central Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas Food Bank

River Valley Regional Food Bank