Governor Hutchinson has claimed throughout this pandemic that he is doing the absolute most to protect Arkansas from COVID-19, and that there is nothing more that could be done. This is patently not true. I have a list of actions he should take, and I’m sure others have more to add, too.

Hutchinson has said lockdowns, mask or vaccine mandates and statewide school closures are unworkable and don’t have political support. I agree with him, but that does not mean that there’s not much more he CAN do to help protect our kids and communities. COVID-19 cases are setting new records daily, community spread is high, and hospitalizations, deaths and juvenile hospitalizations all rising dramatically. All while the state is sitting on another large surplus. There is A LOT the governor and other authorities can and should do now.

Advertisement

Hutchinson should do much more to promote vaccines.

  • School districts should be given significant resources to expand school vaccine clinics.

    Advertisement

  • The governor should have more public events across the state where he is personally promoting vaccines and boosters.

  • Arkansas should invest much more in engaging faith and community leaders to help with vaccine outreach and distribution.

    Advertisement

  • The governor should propose a significant tax credit for people who get the vaccine and booster, and a significant child tax credit for families who vaccinate their children.

  • The state should invest in a much larger, more professional and more effective vaccine education and promotion strategy.

  • The governor should require unvaccinated state employees to work remotely.

The governor should confront misinformation on vaccines, masks and COVID publicly and forcefully.

Advertisement

  • He should call out elected officials who spread false information, including state lawmakers making false and misleading statements in legislative meetings.

  • He should direct state agency leaders to call out and correct misinformation they hear spread by elected officials.

  • The state should do much more to present clear COVID-19 facts and counter misinformation.

  • He should propose legislation that makes it illegal to knowingly spread misinformation about the pandemic. This could be done in a way to protect the First Amendment rights while targeting political tricksters and fraudsters who know the information they are spreading is false.

The governor should do much more to promote masking and testing.

  • He should say, out loud in front of cameras, that mask mandates should be in place when community spread is sky high, even if the legislature won’t allow him to mandate that.  He could provide cover to school districts and local officials to take that step on their own by making it clear that he believes it is necessary.

  • The governor should surge the availability of free rapid COVID testing. Making some home tests available is a good step, but he should go much further. There are reports of pharmacies offering rapid testing for around $70-$100 — beyond the means of many families. The governor should commit to reimbursing any entity capable of administering a COVID test for the costs, and ban them from charging consumers during the crisis.

  • He should provide grants to businesses who need support to implement mask mandates, virtual work settings and more that protects employees and the public.

  • The governor should require all state employees to wear masks.

It’s time for the governor to show more leadership.

  • He should declare a state of emergency even if the legislature limited what power he has in an emergency. The public needs to understand that we are in crisis, and again the governor could provide political cover to local authorities by taking some of the heat for declaring an emergency.

  • He should publicly say that group settings of unmasked people, like those in restaurants and at athletic events, should be closed until community spread drops below his previous 10% threshold, or the CDC’s recommended 5% threshold. Even if the legislature won’t allow him to ban unsafe congregant settings, he can say they should be closed to send the public a clear message.

  • He should provide financial support for businesses that choose to close while community spread is at unacceptable levels.

  • While community spread is above 10% he should require non-essential state government employees to work virtually unless they test negative daily.

The Governor should do much more to protect and support students and educators during the crisis:

  • He should establish clear, scientifically backed criteria for when schools should go to virtual learning.  It should include factors like when:

    • Community spread is above 10 percent.

    • When schools do not have the capacity to test each student and staff member at least weekly.

    • When schools do not have adequate mask requirements in place.

    • When schools do not have adequate air filtration and other safety protocols in place.

  • He should implement a strict student to teacher ratio so a school that can not maintain a reasonable student to teacher ratio in a safe setting is required to suspend in person learning. Staff shortages can not be used to justify putting large numbers of students together.

  • Dramatically expand the number of school vaccine and booster clinics.

  • Provide clear permission for schools to use their judgement on other safety measures like when to offer temporary virtual options, permission to extend the school year if needed or make other adjustments as necessary.

  • Invest in strategies to keep kids safe and nurtured who do not have the ability to safely remain home when districts switch to virtual. This could include investing in community spaces where students can remain socially distanced and masked but still get other supports and supervision they need.

  • Dramatically expand the testing capacity of schools. This will require not only much greater quantities of rapid tests, but also the additional staffing capacity to test each student and staff member at least weekly.

  • He should provide much greater support to teachers who are burning out or leaving the field because they are frightened for their safety. In addition to the safety measures outlined elsewhere here, he should:

    • Provide hazard pay increases to teachers and school staff and offer retention incentives.

    • Recruit former teachers who’ve left the field to come back with incentives like tax credits and loan forgiveness programs.

Arkansas is in the midst of a severe crisis that hopefully will pass soon. COVID has shown that future waves are likely even once we get past the Omicron surge. Governor Hutchinson must do more to lead the state, and encourage mayors, school officials and the public to join him in protecting our children and communities.

Bill Kopsky is the executive director of the Public Policy Panel.

Help us report on the coronavirus crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping all aspects of life in Arkansas. We’re interested in hearing from doctors, nurses and other health care workers; from patients and their families; from people in longterm care facilities and their families; from parents and students affected by the crisis; from people who have lost their job; from people with knowledge of workplaces or communities that aren’t taking appropriate measures to slow the spread of the disease; and more.

Send us a tip



Previous article
Pulaski Tech chancellor retiring



Next article
COVID today: More records, more hospitalized