Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday (March 8) the state would broaden its vaccine distribution to include another 180,000 people in the 1b category, and he said a toll-free number would help citizens schedule their shot appointments.
The governor said the 1b expansion would add food and agricultural workers, grocery store employees, food delivery workers, postal and package delivery workers, those in public transit, houses of worship, and other manufacturing personnel.
Essential government workers – including the Legislature, its staff, and a number of public-facing judiciary branch employees – are also included in the expansion news that Hutchinson announced. He also moved intellectually and developmentally disabled citizens, previously considered in the 1c category, were moved to the 1b category and are immediately available for vaccines.
Health officials will also open a statewide vaccination hotline at (800) 985-6030. It will assist citizens in scheduling vaccine appointments at state-sponsored sites and can direct them to pharmacies and other private locations for assistance in receiving a vaccine. The hotline will be open Mondays through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
As of March 7, Arkansas has received more than 1.2 million vaccines and distributed more than 730,000. The state has received 1,088,150 vaccines since federal distribution began Dec. 14. Vaccines administered in the previous 24 hours as of March 7 rose by 6,035 to 677,424, or 62.3% of vaccines received.
The federal program in which CVS, Walgreens and Walmart is managing vaccinations in nursing homes and other long term care facilities has received 135,550 vaccines since Dec. 28. Vaccines administered in the past 24 hours as of March 7 rose by 1,299 to 56,557, or 41.7% of vaccines received.
Monday’s news coincides with new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on social distancing for those who have been vaccinated. The CDC said those who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or social distancing. It also said vaccinated people can gather, unmasked, with people from another household who are not yet vaccinated, as long as those people are at low risk of serious illness from the virus.
The federal health agency did advise that vaccinated people should continue to wear masks in public, avoid crowds and take precautions when around people at high risk of contracting COVID-19.