Arkansas is one of four states in the U.S. that has not passed any stay-at-home orders to combat coronavirus, and Governor Asa Hutchinson plans to keep it that way unless cases spike.
"That option is always on the table," Hutchinson told Cheddar. "If it does spike, if we stop beating the curve, then we will certainly move to more stringent measures."
In the meantime, Hutchinson has opted to shut down schools and select businesses and enforce social distancing guidelines. These measures stop short of the kind of comprehensive shutdowns that other states have employed to stop the spread of COVID-19. The governor has even forbidden cities and municipalities from imposing lockdown orders.
Hutchinson is one of eight governors who have held off on issuing statewide stay-at-home orders, although half of those states have ordered residents in some specific areas to stay in place. He called this approach a "better balance" of safety and economic concerns, while critics have called it irresponsible and potentially dangerous.
"If we went to a shelter-at-home order, then still, because every state exempts essential services, 700,000 Arkansans would still go to work tomorrow, but you'd put 100,000 people out of work," he said.
There have been more than 1,100 coronavirus cases and 21 deaths in Arkansas. This places it in the middle of the pack in terms of the impact of COVID-19, but it also discovered its first case much later (March 11) than the states now approaching their apex.
Whether this more targeted approach will be as effective remains to be seen, but Hutchinson is banking on Arkansans strictly following social distancing guidelines in order to avoid an economic shutdown.
"It's almost an incentive to Arkansans that if you keep social distancing, if you keep reducing the spread, then we're not going to have to be able to shut every business down," he said. "That incentive is working. If it doesn't, we'll put in additional measures."
Hutchinson claims that his state's approach to fighting the outbreak has gotten the tacit approval of White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has nonetheless said multiple times that every state should issue stay-at-home orders to be safe.
"I spoke with Dr. Fauci this morning and reviewed what we're doing," he said. "He's very pleased with the success that we've had. Our measures have been more effective than some other states that have gone to a stay-at-home order."
Of course Arkansas, like many states facing this rapidly developing pandemic, could find itself in a different situation in the weeks to come.
For now, the governor is urging those celebrating Easter this Sunday to meet remotely or observe strict social distancing. The state has not officially banned religious gatherings.