Governor Hutchinson forms testing panel after sharing incorrect data map

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Gov. Asa Hutchinson formed yet another expert body of advisors Tuesday to look into testing for coronavirus in Arkansas, one day after sharing a map that appeared to overestimate how many tests have been performed in the state.

“I’ve said from day one that we have to do more testing,” the Republican governor said during his daily briefing at the State Capitol. “We’ve been challenged in terms of our re-agents and our supply line.”

On Monday, the governor displayed a color-coded map titled “tests per month per 1,000 people by state.” It came from data shared with governors by the White House and it indicated Arkansas was among about seven or eight states with “60 to 90 per 1,000.” If the metric refers to how many people have actually been tested, the map is wrong. Those per capita numbers are nowhere close to that high.

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“I probably should have called the White House and looked at that a little more closely, but as you know, I like to share data points as I receive those,” the governor said in Tuesday’s mea culpa when asked his frustration level with the Trump Administration. “I’ll take responsibility for that. In terms of the White House, I am curious exactly their source for that and so we’ll be communicating with them.”

Hutchinson believes the data, with leading commercial testing labs as the sources, may have been measuring testing capacity. That’s something the governor said Arkansas has plenty of, and it has his team undaunted in plans to cautiously reopen more of the state May 4.

“It’s [the White House] view in capacity versus our view in reality,” he said.

That view differs from other governors, including some Republicans, and indicates Hutchinson doesn’t see a lack of testing as a deal-breaker. The newly formed working group will try to enhance testing in the state, but his advisors are following other trends.

“We continue to look at our positivity rates, looking at our numbers of new cases,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith. “As long as that’s continuing to trend down, then we can move from phase one, to phase two, to phase three.”

Dr. Smith referred to the three phases laid out by the Trump Administration with gating criteria for moving to each phase. The health secretary has backed up the governor’s calls throughout, from targeted shutdowns to the response to hot spots like the outbreak in Cummins prison unit.

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The cloudy data brought on by the map allows for only one clear place to focus on now.

“Let’s get through phase one,” the governor said after a resigned pause. “We want to stay on the right trajectory.”