Today I would like to commend the responsive and responsible leaders of Arkansas who have linked arms to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our state.
Members of my staff and I have been in constant communication with doctors, educators, legislators, emergency management experts, and law-enforcement officials.
The most important contribution of our leaders in all areas related to public health and life has been their thoughtful and calm approach to gathering and studying facts before they act.
As I have watched the development of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two months, I have concluded that facts are the first casualty of a worldwide health crisis. When rumor replaces fact, we have panic and hysteria. When we panic, we make bad decisions. When we panic, we tend to put our personal well-being ahead of all else.
The protection of the health and safety of every Arkansan is my top priority. We are pursuing that goal by gathering facts from every responsible source we can and then determining the best course of action on matters such as school closings and public gatherings.
One of my top tasks as governor during this time is to share the facts as we learn them, and to plan for the possibility of a broader community outbreak.
As the spread of COVID-19 has accelerated in the United States, the facts may change and sometimes we are adjusting course several times in a day. As we learned just this week in Arkansas, facts change quickly between sunset and sunrise.
On Wednesday, we were reporting the first presumptive positive case of coronavirus, and by Thursday, the total had risen to six.
The facts have led to major adjustments in the life of our state. These adjustments have caused disappointment and inconvenience, and in some cases, hardship. But if we are to beat this virus, many of us will have to sacrifice in the short term for long-term success. Schools in a limited number of counties have closed, at least temporarily. Many state and private universities will transition to online classes for some or the rest of the semester. The capitol is temporarily closed to visitors. The Arkansas Activities Association postponed the balance of its basketball tournament. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Cher canceled their weekend performances.
No one understood better than Franklin Roosevelt that in hard times, the best way to reassure Americans was to give them facts in plain language. Eighty-seven years ago this week, FDR delivered the first of his thirty Fireside Chats, which he wrote to separate fact from fiction and lead Americans to a calm and educated consideration of an issue. Although his first chat in 1933 addressed the nation’s banking crisis, one sentence is appropriate for this year as we navigate the unpredictable and sometimes frightening twists of this international health crisis.
President Roosevelt said, “I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, and why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be.” With those words, he helped calm the fears of a nation.
We have a lot of hard work to do and tough decisions to make over the coming weeks. We may have setbacks and disappointments. We can’t predict what this is going to look like when it’s over. But if we arm ourselves with facts and go calmly into the battle against COVID-19, we will have done everything humanly possible to minimize the illness and save lives.
As we face the unexpected together, I will tell you what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what we think we will do next.