▶ Watch Video: Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson says “hospital space is tight” as coronavirus surges

The following is a transcript of an interview with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson that aired Sunday, October 25, 2020, on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We want to go now to Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a state that this week had its largest spike in hospitalizations since the pandemic began. He joins us from Little Rock. Good morning to you, Governor.

ARKANSAS GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: Good morning. Good to be with you, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. I’m- I’m sorry to hear about this spike in hospitalizations. That means people are getting quite ill. Your infection rate is also up. I saw that your state was one of 15 that have added more cases in the past week than any other seven-day stretch. This doesn’t sound like rounding the curve.

GOV. HUTCHINSON: No, it’s very concerning. And that’s a statistic I watch is both deaths and the hospitalizations. I do think people who get ill want to go into the hospital quicker because they can start their treatment. They have a better chance of recovery. And so I think that is a little bit of a factor. Right now our hospitalization space is tight. We have adequate space, but we watch it very carefully. And the spike in cases that we’ve seen is a concern. I think it reflects what we’re all looking at nationwide in terms of going into the winter, combination of flu, the combination of more indoor settings. And so it is concerning, and we’re making preparations for it. But we have to really pull together to follow the guidelines that are necessary to keep the economy moving. But at the same time, make sure we don’t increase that spread.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say preparations are being made, do you need to set up field hospitals as alternates to your current hospitalizations?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, as the mayor indicated, we have contingency plans, but we have more than adequate space right now in our hospitals. The challenge is, of course, that there’s a lot of other health care needs that you don’t want to reduce or put aside because you’re dealing with COVID patients. So we have more than adequate ventilators, ICU space. Staffing is a challenge for our hospitals because it’s becoming a national competitive environment to recruit staff with contractors, to move them to hotspots and other places. And so that is the most consistent challenge that our hospitals are facing. Preparation wise, we’re working very closely with them, but it’s- primarily it’s individual responsibility of our citizens to do what is necessary and pull together, increase usage of masks–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

GOV. HUTCHINSON: –you see in Arkansas in compliance with the mask mandate that we have in place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That- that’s interesting you are Republican governor, you are calling for more mask wearing. Our CBS polling through our Battleground Tracker shows that in virtually every state, when the question is asked, likely voters tell us the Trump administration’s efforts have hurt more than helped states’ COVID response. Is the fact that the president doesn’t wear a mask and endorse it, even though he says he’s OK with it, does that hurt your ability to persuade your constituents to do what you are telling them is best for them?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, it makes it confusing. I mean, he’s made it very clear that wearing a mask is important. I saw him wear a mask going into the polls yesterday, but obviously with the- the rallies, there is confusing messages there. The president, leaders in crisis always needs to do two things. One is to be truthful and realistic. And everyone knows that we are going through a very difficult crisis and it’s going to likely get worse as we go into the winter. Secondly, you’ve got to give the American people hope, and that is the vaccine that the administration is working incredibly hard for. I spoke with Secretary Azar this week talking about the partnership with the states in vaccine distribution. And so they’re working hard at the White House level. But the communication as to what we need to do is an important–

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to–

GOV. HUTCHINSON: –part of it as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about that distribution, because Pfizer CEO, when he was on our program recently, he said he thinks it’s going to be really difficult for the government to handle distribution. And he thought it’d be better if they collaborate with private industry. Are you confident that even when a vaccine becomes available, you’ll have full access and ability to get it to your constituents?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, actually, there will be a utilization of the private sector in the vaccine distribution. It will go directly from the federal warehouse or to them from the manufacturer straight to the point of distribution in the state, with the state acting more like a traffic cop as to make sure it gets to the right place. But the private sector will be absolutely utilized in this. These plans are still being developed, but we’ve submitted our plan. We’ll be getting a response from that from the White House probably next week.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. I want to ask you about another thing that our Battleground Tracker has shown in three different Southern states, and that is when likely voters are polled, they say it’s inappropriate for the president to lead the chant “lock her up,” as he recently did in regard to Michigan’s governor- governor at a rally. You know there’s been an FBI plot to kidnap and kill her, that FBI revealed that they had foiled this plot. You’re the top Republican on the National Governors Association. There are now threats that have been reported against multiple governors. Do you think it is appropriate to lead these kind of chants given the level of tension and threat?

GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, that’s not a chant I would ever participate in. You know, we need to have a more civil discourse. Even though it’s a hotly contested presidential race, we need to lead by example, whether it’s a president, whether it’s his staff or whether it is a governor or any public official who has threats made against them. And we have to take that security seriously. I’m del- very delighted that she’s safe, but also that the law enforcement did such a great job on that case.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Governor, thank you very much. Good luck to you. We’ll be right back.

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