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Arkansas lawmakers test positive for virus, governor exposed

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the directive during his weekly news conference in Little Rock.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the directive during his weekly news conference in Little Rock.(KY3)
Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 3:29 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Three Arkansas lawmakers announced Tuesday they have tested positive for the coronavirus and the state’s governor said he’s scaling back his public events and meetings after being exposed to someone with the virus.

Senate President Jim Hendren said the Legislature was postponing its budget hearings after two House members and one senator tested positive for the virus. Hendren said legislative leaders will work with the Health Department to determine who must be quarantined and tested because of any potential exposure.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters he was limiting his events after learning someone at a meeting he held Friday tested positive for the virus. Hutchinson said he’s tested negative twice since learning of the exposure.

Hutchinson went forward with a tour of the state Monday to campaign for a highway tax measure, even after learning of the exposure. He defended the move, saying he received the negative results before the campaign events and that he followed masking and social distancing guidelines.

“As I came back after that, the Department of Health had a further discussion with the individual who tested positive and they said out of an abundance of caution let’s go ahead and not quarantine but let’s limit the engagements to really essential activities,” Hutchinson said at his weekly coronavirus briefing, which was held virtually.

Hutchinson said he will be tested regularly over the next week.

Arkansas has seen a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent weeks, and the number of people in the hospital again hit a new high on Tuesday. A White House task force report released the same day said the state ranked 12th in the country for new cases per capita.

Nearly three-fourths of the counties in Arkansas have moderate or high community spread of the virus, the task force said.

The lawmakers who tested positive were Sen. Terry Rice, Rep. Michelle Gray and Rep. Stu Smith, Hendren and a House spokeswoman said.

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