Arkansas Public Health Emergency to Expire May 30

ADH is launching a $2 million ad campaign promoting vaccinations in minority communities.

Gov. Hutchinson speaking at podium
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announces the end of the state's public health emergency May 20, 2021.

The current public health emergency in Arkansas will end effective May 30, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced during a press conference this morning. 

The governor first issued an executive order Mar. 11, 2020, to declare an emergency and order the Arkansas Department of Health to take action to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Hutchinson has regularly renewed the order for the past 14 months. Emergency orders regarding telemedicine and liability have been enacted into law, so there are no orders that are dependent on the public health emergency continuing.

The reason the emergency order is ending, Hutchinson said, is because Arkansans know what to do to prevent the spread of the virus, hospitalizations are down, and people 12 years of age and older have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The situation in the state has transitioned from a period of emergency to one of maintenance, and now efforts will be focused on vaccinations and managing the pandemic. 

“The public health concerns remain and everyone in Arkansas needs to continue to take the virus seriously and to act accordingly,” Hutchinson said. “And the fact that I’m ending the public health emergency should not diminish anyone’s intensity on the need to get a vaccination or the need to protect from the virus.” 

Hutchinson announced a $6.4 million ad campaign to encourage the public to get vaccinated. An additional $2 million will be spent on ads specifically targeting minority communities. One of the video advertisements Hutchinson shared during his press conference featured former NBA player Sidney Moncrief discussing the importance of getting vaccinated. Another video highlighted small businesses owners including James Jones, the owner of Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna. 

“Those are called influencers, those that the public hopefully identifies with, but also gives confidence of those small businesses that they’re protecting their workplace, and the importance of their employees and the public being vaccinated,” Hutchinson said.

Executive branch state agency employees who have received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will receive a $100 bonus, Hutchinson announced. An estimated 25,772 employees are eligible for the new incentive. If a 70 percent vaccination rate is achieved through this initiative, it will cost about $3.6 million, which will be absorbed by state agencies. The goal is to use American Rescue Plan funds to reimburse them, Hutchinson said, and checks would be issued in the next fiscal year — after July 1.

“The reason we’re doing this is that we want employees to be vaccinated and we want them to be safe in the workplace, but just as importantly, our state workers in many instances are providing an environment for the public to come in and do business,” Hutchinson said. 

Nearly 44 percent of state agency employees are already vaccinated. Contract employees are not eligible for the incentive. 

The governor has set a goal of administering at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to 50 percent of the state’s population by August. More than 1 million Arkansans — roughly 36 percent — have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.  

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.