Vaccine demand up in Arkansas as state sets new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 1:21 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (WMC) - Governor Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero gave an update Tuesday afternoon on the state’s response to this latest COVID-19 surge, a day after the state set a new record for hospitalizations with 81 people admitted in a single day.

While active cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, Hutchinson said vaccine demand has increased.

Arkansas COVID update August 3
Arkansas COVID update August 3(Arkansas Department of Health)

“We now have 14 counties with 50 percent of their population being vaccinated,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson went on to emphasize the importance of the vaccine by indicating that 97% of COVID deaths in the state since Jan. 1 have been individuals who are unvaccinated.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Hutchinson confirmed that the Arkansas General Assembly affirmed the renewal to the public health emergency but has two more items he wants to address.

The first involves an Arkansas judge’s ruling that said the state did not have the authority to opt out the the federal program that provided an extra $300 per week for those eligible and available to work.

“Since that time, two things have happened,” Hutchinson said. “The number of Arkansans registering for work increased by 28%, employers are hiring and people are returning to work. Nearly 160,000 Arkansas jobs have been filled since the announcement.”

While the state of Arkansas is working on an appeal, he wants to provide legislative clarification behind their actions to opt out of the federal program.

Secondly, Hutchinson wants to amend a mask mandate law, Act 1002, to allow school districts the flexibility to protect children.

“I’m not in favor of a statewide mask mandate…” Hutchinson said. “We do have a vulnerable group that is not eligible for the vaccine. The call that I’ve signed today asks the general assembly to amend the law to give local school districts the flexibility to add protection for children under 12.”

Dr. Jose Romero echoed the need to protect children.

“Between April and July of this year, there has been a 517% increase in the number of cases under 18 years of age,” Romero said. “These numbers exemplify and bring out a very sober aspect of the pandemic in our state,” Romero said. “We have a group of individuals that are extremely susceptible to infection because they do not have eligibility for a vaccine.”

Last week, the Arkansas Department of Education released their updated guidelines for public schools.

“This year because of the Delta Variant and the impact that it has, it is definitely more weighted toward the younger population,” Johnny Key said, Secretary of Education for the state of Arkansas. “We see a number of challenges, but with the strategies that we employed last year, we believe we can continue to be effective.”

He said they have been working with districts throughout the summer to help distribute federal funds to improve of air circulation within districts throughout the state.

“The one tool that we have this year that we didn’t have last year is the vaccine,” Secretary Key said. “We certainly do encourage our districts to think about how they can increase those numbers within the ages 12 and up.”

Secretary Key said the Arkansas Department of Education will support districts to help educate the public and to make sure the vaccine is readily available.

The Arkansas General Assembly is set to meet Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 10 a.m.

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