Governor announces measures to speed vaccination process, teachers, people over 70 can be vaccinated next week

Education workers in K-12, daycare, and higher education, along with individuals 70 years of age and older will be able to be vaccinated in the state of Arkansas beginning next week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced at his weekly COVID-19 press conference today in Little Rock.

Hutchinson said that the state is on track to finish vaccinating the 1-A group made up of health care workers and long-term care facility residents and workers by the end of this month, and meanwhile is also ready to open up to the above mentioned priority groups on Monday, Jan. 18.

Many of the educators in that group, he said, will be able to be vaccinated within their school district or employer, he said, and others will be eligible to receive the vaccine through participating local pharmacies.

The governor estimated that educators in the state amount to about 132,000 individuals, with around 311,000 people in the state in the 70 and older population.

After that, the state will move on other groups identified in 1-B, including workers in food and agriculture, firefighters, police, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, US Postal Service workers, essential government workers, and correctional staff.

The governor also on Tuesday announced that Col. Robert “Gator” Ator, Director of Military Affairs for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, has been appointed to serve as program manager for the state’s vaccine delivery response.

“He will serve as project manager for our vaccine distribution,” Hutchinson said. “His responsibility will be to implement, with our professionals at the department of health, the plan that will be released by Jan. 15.

“He will manage the logistics related to the vaccine distribution, and liaison to other state agencies to assist with the information sharing and data collection,” he said.

“The problem we are seeing is that, as we got to the different phases of the and we expand the vaccination program, one of the things we are going to have to work on is capacity,” he said. “We are using an all state government approach as to how we go about doing that.

“We are going to be using the Department of Commerce, the military department obviously is very, very important to this, but we are using everything to be able to get to this so that we are servicing the needs of our fellow Arkansans. I am looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity.”

Last week, the governor tasked Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard, Major General Kendall Penn with creating a plan to administer the vaccination in the state.

Penn said the plan will be posted on the website soon.

“We realized to make this an efficient process to increase the capacity distribute for giving vaccine across the state,” Penn said. “We looked at what we have to do to enroll more hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and in some cases, private industry has their own health units, to bring all of those into the fold to be eligible to give the vaccine.”

Penn said his team is recommending process improvements as well, with a need to manage vaccine distribution as well as the need to give shots. He said the state will enter data into a program that will improve visibility to the amount of vaccine is on hand at any given time, where it is, and how much is being dispersed.

The state will also develop procedures for deploy “strike teams” to administer vaccine at large employers, school districts, and other large bodies that want to set up a large vaccination clinic when supply becomes more readily available.

Secretary of Health Jose Romero said increasing supply is also key to the state’s plan to vaccinate more quickly, but he said, he expects that supply to begin ramping up soon.

“We will be getting more vaccine in the future,” he said. “There is a third vaccine that is on the horizon and will be discussed at the ACIP meeting and will hopefully be approved by the FDA.”

“The point at this moment is that we begin to immunize those individials at highest risk for morbidity and mortality, I think we can have the most impact,” Romero said.

Case update

The Arkansas Department of Health announced that COVID-19 cases in Arkansas increased by 3,209 on Tuesday.

The state announced 40 new deaths as a result of COVID-19, bringing the toll in the state to 4,121 since the pandemic began.

Of the new cases added Tuesday, 268 are from Washington County and 377 come from Benton County.

Hospitalizations decreased by 17 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of Arkansans hospitalized with the virus to 1,354. There are 251 Arkansans on ventilators, down 17 from yesterday.

There are currently 25,702 cases of COVID-19 considered active in the state, which includes those that have tested positive by both PCR and antigen testing methods.

The state reported 6,358 new PCR tests on Tuesday, along with 4,334 new antigen tests.

The new cases bring the total cumulative count in Arkansas to 259,553 since the pandemic began.

The state announced it has vaccinated 8,653 Arkansans since last count yesterday, bringing the total number of Arkansans vaccinated to 89,449.

The top counties for new cases announced Monday were Benton (154), Washington (149), Pulaski (146), Sebastian (86) and Garland (69).

Case report – Tuesday, Jan. 12

Vaccination report – Tuesday, Jan. 12

Other slides shown Tuesday