Record Number of Arkansas COVID-19 Patients on Ventilators

A booster shot is now available for immunocompromised individuals.

Health Secretary Dr. José Romero standing behind a podium
Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. José Romero provides an update on the pandemic Aug. 19, 2021.

A record 331 COVID-19 patients are on ventilators. This is the ninth time the state has set an all-time high in August. The Arkansas Department of Health also reported 3,549 new cases and during a press conference this afternoon, officials said the uptick in cases is likely connected to the start of school.

“Across the board at this time we have no single district or school that’s showing an outbreak,” Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said. “We believe that this is a general increase overall.” 

To help protect against the spread of the virus in schools, the state is delivering more than 500,000 high filtration masks to districts this week. About 325,000 of the masks are specifically designed for children. Approximately 45 percent of the state’s school districts implemented mask mandates prior to the start of the fall semester. 

Some school districts, like the Rogers and Texarkana School Districts, have also offered vaccination clinics. The COVID-19 vaccine has only been approved for children as young as 12 years old. 

All schools are open and no modifications have been reported to the Arkansas Department of Education, but that could change, ADE deputy commissioner Ivy Pfeffer said.

“What we know right now is that the number of disruptions is significantly lower in many schools in spite of some of the positive cases and that’s due to the number of vaccinations that both staff and students have received and also because several of our school districts have implemented mask requirements, which also cut down on the number of quarantines,” Pfeffer said.

More than 51 percent of the state’s total population is partially vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As state officials continue to urge Arkansans to get their first vaccination, federal officials are recommending a third shot for some individuals. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices last week approved a booster shot for moderately to severely immunocompromised people. Eligible Arkansans can receive those shots now.

Yesterday, federal health officials announced a recommendation that people should receive a third shot eight months after receiving their second dose. Pending approval from the FDA and ACIP, those booster shots could be ready the week of Sept. 20. 

The booster shots would only apply to people who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. However, health officials said they anticipate receiving more data on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in the coming weeks and people who received this shot will likely need another dose as well. 

Arkansas officials are already preparing to roll out the third shots pending approval. Much like with the initial vaccine rollout, health officials will first reach out to high risk populations like people living in long-term congregate settings, Romero said. 

“I want to make it very clear that the recommendation is that individuals not receive their booster until eight months after the second dose…right now we don’t believe that everybody needs a booster immediately and this will be a phased approach,” he said.

More information about vaccinations in Arkansas is available on the Department of Health’s website.  


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.