The state of Arkansas has administered 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday (March 23) during his weekly briefing.
Counting vaccinations delivered through federal programs, 1,008,575 shots have been administered out of 1,466,950 distributed – a 68.75% rate, Hutchinson said. Those numbers came from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said his goal was 1.1 million shots administered by the end of the month.
The governor later shared numbers showing the state program had received 1,527,220 doses and administered 874,294, a 57.2% rate. Federal programs in Arkansas have been allocated 229,580 doses and have administered 104,490, a 45.5% rate. The governor’s office and the Department of Health have not yet responded to requests to explain the discrepancy.
The governor announced the total number of active COVID-19 cases has fallen by 69 to 2,263. There were 239 new cases in the last 24 hours, 119 of them confirmed and 120 of them probable. The state’s death toll increased by three to 5,547, its hospitalizations fell by 11 to 173, and the number of patients on ventilators was reduced by two to 40.
The governor noted the case count has been declining. He said he had spoken that morning with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I asked him to look at where we are, and the test is, are you going down, or are you flat?” he said. “And if you’re flat, and you stay flat, then there’s a potential you go up.”
He asked students who travel on spring break to get tested when they return.
The governor expressed concern about Arkansans’ hesitancy to be vaccinated, saying, “As people in their communities see lower case numbers, they’re less motivated to get a vaccination, and we’ve got to reverse that trend. I want to ask everyone, when it’s your turn, get a shot. Get that shot in your arm because it helps our entire state to completely move out of this pandemic.”
The governor described the effort to encourage vaccinations on television and social media as a “massive advertising campaign.” He said he had challenged his cabinet members to attain a goal of 70% vaccinations within state government.
Asked why the vaccine has not been made available to all Arkansans ages 16 and older, the governor said a backlog still exists in some parts of the state where individuals in eligible groups have not been vaccinated.
The governor said he is meeting with local leaders to finalize the plan to end the mask mandate at the end of the month. He said local regulations would not differ from state ones. He said businesses can choose whether to enforce their own mandates. Because the state is well below the criteria Hutchinson had previously listed for lifting the statewide mask mandate, he said that “everyone can expect on March 31 for that mask mandate to be lifted.”
The governor March 22 vetoed Senate Bill 301 by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, which would would return fines collected by state agencies during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Hutchinson described it at his press conference as a separation of powers issue, saying the bill undermined the executive branch’s ability to enforce the law. He also said it would be unfair to businesses that had complied.
House members later voted not to override the veto.
Education Secretary Johnny Key said no school districts have shifted to virtual instruction because of COVID-19 since the first week of February.
Dr. Margie Scott, director of the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, said the age limit for veterans has been lifted and the system is offering vaccines to all eligible veterans ages 18 and up enrolled in VA health care. Shots are available at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, at Fort Roots in North Little Rock, and at any VA community-based outpatient clinic. The VA has vaccinated more than 26,000 veterans and staff, including the Central Arkansas system and the Fayetteville-based Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks.
The governor signed House Bill 1343 by Rep. Les Warren, R-Hot Springs, allowing Arkansas State Police officers to retire after 28 years rather than the current 30, as well as Senate Bill 107 by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, and Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, requiring public school students to graduate with a computer science credit.
He said he had not studied a bill by Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, that would allow college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, but that he supports the bill in principle. He said he supported the idea of protecting student-athletes and noted it could offer teams a competitive advantage in recruiting.
The legislation drew the support of Arkansas Razorbacks Head Football Coach Sam Pittman and University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek in testimony before the House Education Committee March 23.