Governor Hosts Additional Community Conversations As COVID Cases Rise

The state’s vaccination rate has increased since the meetings began in early July.

Masked Black woman speaks with masked Black male doctor

Governor Asa Hutchinson launched a series of COVID-19 community conversations earlier this month. He’s extending that tour beginning with a stop in Mountain Home this morning.

“It’s critical we continue to have these discussions around Arkansas to ensure people have the facts and science behind these vaccines,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “The testimony from local health care professionals, community leaders and former COVID patients has been beneficial in combating misinformation.”

During an interview on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Hutchinson said the vaccination rate in Arkansas has increased 40 percent since he started hosting the conversations. While there are people who have a “hardened resistance” to vaccination, Hutchinson said they represent a small percentage of the population and there are more people who come to the town halls to get information. 

“That’s where you have a community physician that answers their questions, and that is persuadable,” he said. “And so we’re seeing people that were previously resistant or hesitant about it, coming in and getting a vaccination.”

Over the weekend, 18,404 doses of the vaccine were administered, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. That’s nearly 5,300 more than the previous weekend. More than 2.2 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed and of the Arkansans who have received a shot, 12 percent are Black and 6.5 percent are Hispanic.

Despite an increase in vaccinations, cases continue to surge which prompted ADH to resume daily reports this weekend. In late June, the department halted weekend reporting and instead began releasing Saturday and Sunday numbers on Mondays. 

ADH reported 3,037 new positive cases and 13 more virus related deaths this weekend. As of Sunday, 919 Arkansans were hospitalized and 173 were on ventilators. These counts have more than doubled since July 1 when 337 Arkansans were in the hospital and 75 were on ventilators. 

The massive increase in patients has put a strain on the state’s hospitals. On July 17, Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, announced the Little Rock hospital was full. 

“We are staffing inpatients in the ER and recovery room. No space for transfers,” Patterson wrote on Twitter. “Running out of caregivers. Support health care workers. Mask up. Get vaxxed.”

Four days later, Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville launched Phase 2 of its COVID-19 Surge Plan due to the significant growth in cases and hospitalizations. The Conway Fire Department issued a notification via social media Friday that due to local hospitals being at or near capacity and an increase in call volume, the community should expect longer wait times on ambulances when calling 911. 

People respond to risk, so vaccinations slowed as fewer cases were reported, Hutchinson said. Vaccinations are starting to increase because Arkansans are considering the increased risk from the Delta variant, which can spread more easily and cause more severe disease than the original virus, he said. Additionally, younger people are being infected. The health department last week confirmed two children have died from COVID-19 in Arkansas. 

“These are alarm bells for everyone that follows this, so our goal: get information out, help them to make the right decision, push the vaccination and hopefully we’ll be ready for school within the next month,” Hutchinson said.

If you would like to attend a community conversation about COVID-19, the following events are scheduled for this week:

Monday, July 26

11:45 a.m. at The Sheid at ASU-Mountain Home

1600 S. College Street


Tuesday, July 27

11 a.m. at Dumas Community Center

18 Belmont St.


Wednesday, July 28

6 p.m. at Heber Springs High School Performing Arts Center

1100 W. Pine St.


Friday, July 30

11 a.m. at Siloam Springs Community Building

110 N. Mt. Olive St.

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.