Health officials are encouraging mitigation tactics for children ineligible for the shot.
For the 200th time since the start of the pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson this afternoon delivered an update on COVID-19 in Arkansas. Today he confirmed more than 50 percent of eligible Arkansans are fully vaccinated.
The governor continues to encourage Arkansans who haven’t done so to get their shots, and said he supports the authority of states to require vaccinations in the educational environment. Hutchinson also supports the freedom of businesses to require vaccinations in the workplace.
However, he does not support “the strategy of a broad federal mandate” for businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to be tested weekly. The mandate, which was issued by President Joe Biden, is not consistent with historical use of federal authority in public health matters, Hutchinson said.
“It is counterproductive and, in my judgement, will increase vaccine hesitancy,” he said. “I should emphasize that I continue to advocate for everyone that is eligible to be vaccinated.”
Health officials are urging Arkansans to get their shots to not only prevent contracting COVID-19, but to reduce the risk of severe illness that could lead to hospitalization or death for those who are infected. Since Feb. 1, unvaccinated Arkansans have accounted for about 90 percent of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and 91 percent of hospitalizations.
After setting multiple all-time records throughout August, hospitalizations have declined seven days in a row. Nearly 1,100 people are in the hospital statewide, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Fewer hospitalizations have opened up some hospital capacity. Earlier today, there were 33 adult ICU beds and six pediatric ICU beds available in Arkansas.
Progress is being made in efforts to vaccinate Arkansans 12 to 18 years old. About 47 percent of this age group have received one shot while nearly 35 percent are fully vaccinated. Children under 12 have not been approved for the vaccine and must rely on other mitigation strategies, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said.
“It’s very important that masks be used in school in order to limit the spread,” Romero said. “These have been shown to be effective in preventing infections and in limiting the spread of the virus within a close setting.”
Three school districts have modified their in-person instruction due to COVID-19 this week, Education Secretary Johnny Key said. Officials report about 1,300 fewer cases in schools this week, but Key is urging districts who are due to start revisiting their mask policies to keep mitigation strategies in place.
“Let’s keep doing what you’ve been doing, it is working,” Key said.
In addition to masking, Key said schools can improve their ventilation systems and encourage vaccinations. More information about vaccinations is available on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website.