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Weekly Address — April 16, 2020

From the eerily quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.

If you had any doubts about the severity of the coronavirus, look no farther than a single barracks at the Cummins Prison unit.

Virtually overnight, 44 of 47 inmates tested positive for the virus.

Prison officials have segregated those inmates, and have taken extra precautions with the guards and staff who have to come in contact with inmates in the infected barrack.

Arkansas public health officials pointed to the Cummins unit as an example of how contagious the coronavirus is, and how quickly it can spread.

Just imagine how quickly it would spread through a church congregation, where people shake hands and hug each other.

Or a basketball game, where everyone is yelling, and leaning over to talk to people in the seats beside you, and in the row in front of you.

Just a few people with the coronavirus could easily spread it to dozens, or even hundreds of other people.

That's why we have to keep doing what we're doing, even though it is devastating our economy and disrupting our conventional lifestyles.

Fortunately, our strategy appears to be working. The number of hospitalized Arkansans levelled off earlier this week. At the beginning of the week, 74 Arkansans were hospitalized, down from a high of 86 the week before.

The number of patients on a ventilator went down from 29 to 28.

We are so much better off than people in other states and in other countries, where there are not enough hospital beds and ventilators for everyone who has contracted Covid-19.

However, it's critically important that we stay the course, no matter how tempting it is to open up for business as usual.

That's why the governor appointed a panel of seven doctors to develop a course of action for when the number of cases in Arkansas is on the way down.

Later in April we expect the number of cases to peak, and then gradually taper off. That is when we want to avoid a letdown. Until we have this outbreak under control, we do not want to take our foot off the gas pedal.

If we relax our restrictions too soon, the coronavirus could easily come back as strong as ever.

That's why the governor appointed a medical advisory panel to determine when it is safe to begin relaxing restrictions on social distancing, on opening restaurants and allowing public gatherings.

Those are decisions to be made by medical professionals, not politicians.

In other news, the legislature has made excellent progress on this year's fiscal session. This week, we'll focus on the Revenue Stabilization Act, which is the Arkansas balanced budget law.

It prioritizes government spending by placing state agency budgets in categories from A through D.

Spending items in category A have the highest priority, and include schools, prisons, human services, health programs and public safety.

If state revenue falls off because of a slowdown in the economy, state agency spending will decrease by a corresponding amount.

It's an effective way to manage finances, and it's a method that Congress ought to use. Borrowing money year after year for operating expenses is risky.

We can all be proud to know that in Arkansas, if we don't have it, we don't spend it.

From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.


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