Governor sets goal to reach 50 percent vaccination rate in 90 days

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson wants to see more Arkansans getting their COVID-19 vaccinations. A lot more.

The governor on Tuesday announced a goal to increase the number of Arkansans that have received a COVID-19 vaccine from 34% to more than 50% in the next 90 days.

In all, 1,038,566 individuals have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Arkansas. To reach the governor’s goal, that would require just over 467,000 additional Arkansans to receive a shot, he said.

“We are challenging the state of Arkansas to reach 50% of Arkansans vaccinated either with one or two doses within the next 90 days,” he said. “Obviously we want to get it higher than that, and if you look at the adult population it will be, and we want to get them fully vaccinated but it starts with this one foundational goal.”

The governor said he will task each county with increasing their vaccination rates in order to meet the overall goal.

“It’s going to take local leadership to drive and increase the access to vaccines, and to make sure that opportunity is there for everyone” he said.

Pop up clinics

The Arkansas Department of Health will begin some new tactics in order to increase vaccine distribution in the state, officials said Tuesday.

One of those tactics is showing up to events happening around the state with vaccine, rather than relying on individuals to make appointments and show up to clinics.

Vaccine will be available at UA Traveler games, high school graduation events, mall food courts, music festivals, farmers’ markets, food banks, rodeos, livestock shows, craft markets, and other places where people are expected to be gathering around the state.

Health officials will also be on hand at the various events to answer questions about the vaccines for those interested in learning more.

Legislation update

The governor addressed some of the legislation passed by the general assembly this session that could hamper the fight against the virus.

Laws against government-sponsored ‘vaccine passports,’ and against state-and-local municipalities passing their own mask mandates, for example, were passed by the legislature, but will not go into effect until 90 days after the session ends.

Even after the laws go into effect, they will not prevent local businesses from requiring vaccinations or the wearing of face coverings for entry, for example, if they choose to do so.

State hospitals and others are also exempted from the new laws, Hutchinson said.

Variants in the state

Governor Hutchinson said that new variants of the virus have now been detected in 29 counties in the state.

Secretary of Health Jose Romero confirmed that variants in the state are on the rise.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of the variants detected in the state,” he said. “Last week we had a significant jump in the number of the UK variant, the B.1.1.7…they make up now 75% of the variants we are seeing here.”

Romero said the increase in the variant has caused more cases and hospitalizations among younger individuals, children in particular, around the country.

“We are seeing more cases in children here than we had,” he said. “So, they can not get the vaccine. One way to protect them is to form a cocoon around them by adults and adolescents receiving the vaccine, so again, please consider this when deciding whether to take the vaccine or not.”

Romero pointed to a recent increase in hospitalizations and active cases in the state, as well as increases in test positivity rates, as a trend he is concerned about.

“We want to make sure that this does not continue because it would indicate that we have spread significant amounts of virus in the state,” he said.

Case update

Hutchinson announced that COVID-19 cases in Arkansas increased by 296 on Tuesday.

The state announced five new deaths as a result of the virus, bringing the total number of deaths in the state as a result of the pandemic to 5,752.

Hospitalizations were up by 20, bringing the total number of Arkansans hospitalized in the state to 192. There are 28 patients on ventilators, down one from yesterday.

There are currently 2,043 cases of COVID-19 considered active in the state, which includes those that have tested positive by both PCR and antigen testing methods.

There were 6,022 PCR tests conducted in the state, and 1,937 antigen tests.

The new cases bring the total cumulative count in Arkansas to 336,462 since the pandemic began.

The state announced that 10,982 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered since last count yesterday, bringing the total number of doses given by the state to 1,751,620. The state lists 270,426 individuals as partially immunized, and 768,130 individuals as fully immunized.

The top counties for new cases on Monday were Benton (43), Washington (42), and Pulaski (27).

Visuals shown Tuesday