A failure in leadership
More than 137,000 Arkansas residents have tested positive for coronavirus. Another 19,000-plus are classified as “probable cases” based on antigen testing. Nearly 2,500 people have died from the virus in Arkansas and more than 1,000 were hospitalized as of Monday morning.
And Gov. Asa Hutchinson still refuses to take any significant new action to slow the spread of the virus across the state.
Hutchinson was reasonably proactive in the early days of the virus, ordering the closure of the state’s public schools in mid-March and restricting restaurants to curbside and carryout service around the same time.
But Hutchinson refused for months to issue a statewide mask mandate, even after restaurants were allowed to resume limited dine-in service in May. He also ordered the state’s public schools to reopen in August.
On March 15, the day Hutchinson announced the school closure, there were 16 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arkansas. Four days later, on March 19, restaurant service was restricted with 62 confirmed cases in the state.
On May 11, the day the restaurant restrictions were eased, there were 4,043 confirmed cases. On July 20, when Hutchinson finally reversed course and issued a mask mandate that law enforcement agencies have largely chosen to ignore, there were 33,927 confirmed cases. And on Aug. 24, when most of the state’s public schools reopened, there were 56,894 confirmed cases.
Now, a little more than three months later, cases have increased nearly threefold. Hutchinson’s response has been to form a “winter task force” and order bars to close at 11 p.m.
This is not equivalent to shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped. A more accurate comparison is opening up the chicken house and sending the wolf a gold-engraved invitation to come in and eat his fill.
By the way, what ever happened to the federal “gating criteria” that was unveiled by the Trump administration in May and was supposed to be used to determine when it was safe to “reopen?”
Certainly, much of the governor’s hesitation to take meaningful steps to protect Arkansas lives is rooted in his concern for the economy — and that is a legitimate concern. But I can’t help but wonder how much of his inaction is politically motivated, even though he is term-limited and I can’t for the life of me figure out why he is all that concerned about the political fallout.
Of course, even the few steps Hutchinson has taken have drawn sharp criticism from the far-right faction of the state legislature, including the sometimes mortgage- and tax-delinquent state Sen. Bob Ballinger, formerly of Berryville and who now makes his nicely profitable round trips to the state capitol from Johnson County. Ballinger and his buddies like Jason Rapert and Trent Garner would like the governor to do, well, essentially nothing to slow the spread of COVID-19. It violates people’s freedom, they cry. What about liberty?
I’m reminded of all those times years ago when I took away my sons’ liberty while they were growing up. You know, like not letting them walk out into the street or play with matches when they were 3.
Sadly, there are many among us who refuse to take even the most simple steps, like putting on a mask, to protect their fellow citizens.
“Mask? What for?” Ballinger replied to a Facebook comment on his photo of at least 20 people gathered around a Thanksgiving table, with not a single mask in sight.
Sometimes, if people can’t be counted on to protect themselves and others, they have to be compelled to do it.
Schools need to be closed again. Restaurants need to go back to curbside or carryout service. Large indoor gatherings need to be prohibited.
None of that is convenient. Dying is even less convenient.
It’s past time for Hutchinson to either sleep or get off the cot. I’m afraid it may be too late already.