Arkansas is in the midst of a COVID-19 surge due to the much more contagious Delta variant, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson told community members in Forrest City Tuesday evening (July 13) there is one variable that is causing the numbers to spike – a lack of residents getting vaccinated.
Arkansas ranks as one of the lowest in terms of vaccinations and that has led to thousands of new cases and more than 500 people being hospitalized statewide as of Wednesday.
Hutchinson noted during a talk at the Forrest City Civic Center that 98.3% of those hospitalized in the state since January have not been vaccinated. On June 9, the number of cases statewide was about 1,500. One month later on July 9 that number had ballooned to 6,605. There were 1,476 new cases reported in a 24-hour period on Tuesday, while hospitalizations rose by 41 and the death count rose by 15.
“We’ve got to get vaccinated,” Hutchinson said to the crowd of about 75 people. “We have unique challenges that we have to overcome. This is our urgent moment.”
Hutchinson has been engaged in a series of community events throughout the week to inform citizens about the need to get vaccinated and he was joined by Arkansas Secretary of Health Jose Romero. Nearly everyone in attendance had or wore a mask and had been vaccinated.
It was noted that many southern states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas have the lowest vaccination rates while many states in the northeast such as Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and others have the highest rates.
The governor said he wasn’t sure why that was the case, but said those states in the north have a less rural and more urban population and tend to have higher educated communities.
The urban rate versus the rural rate is a pattern that has taken hold in counties throughout the state, Hutchinson said. Cities in the state have higher vaccination rates than the counties as a whole. For example, the city of Marianna, the seat in Lee County has a vaccination rate of about 44%, but the county as a whole has a rate of 25.9%.
One of the main culprits is the dissemination of false and misleading information on the internet. At one point during the community comment portion of the program, a Forrest City woman who identified herself as Debbie told the governor that research showed the Moderna vaccine caused patients to become magnetized and that reported numbers of COVID-19 patients were false.
The governor and Romero blasted those false reports, and at one point Hutchinson said several things the woman has been saying have been disproven.
“Where do you get your information from?” the governor asked at one point.
“America’s Frontline Doctors,” she responded.
Hutchinson said claims by the group, which posted a discredited video touting the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19, have been proven false. The governor also said if a person wants to use the drug to prevent the virus that’s a decision that should be made in concert with a doctor.
He also told the woman if she wanted to know what’s actually happening she could speak to any hospital administrator in the state and they would tell her about the surge in new cases and hospitalizations.
Another woman who attended the meeting, Lorine Lo Hardrick, told Talk Business & Politics she got vaccinated in February. The Forrest City native said she came to the meeting to be better informed. She plans to inform her family and friends that have not been vaccinated. Hardrick noted that people have been getting vaccinated for many diseases for generations, and it’s a matter of public health. During her vaccination, a lady that was 103 years old got vaccinated and now that same woman has turned 104.
“It helped her reach another birthday,” she said.
When asked by a nurse practitioner when there will be a child approved vaccine, Romero said one that can be used on children ages 6-12 should be approved by the end of the year. And, it can’t come quick enough, he said.
The number of children impacted by COVID-19 has surged with the Delta variant. As of Tuesday night, there were 10 children in ICU care in Mississippi. One resident noted that parents allow their children to undergo a battery of immunizations when they are born and through the age of two, but now some parents are refusing to do the same things to themselves which would protect their own children.
Romero said there is only one way to protect children right now – every eligible adult needs to get immunized to stop the spread.
“We don’t have vaccines for our little ones … The way to protect them is for us to get it ourselves,” he said.
Several in the crowd admitted hesitancy when it came to vaccinations, but many had received it.
One man, who didn’t identify himself, blasted Hutchinson. He told the governor there should be mandates when it comes to wearing masks and getting vaccinated. He told Hutchinson it was his job to lead and protect the citizenry of the state no matter what the political ramifications.
“Why don’t you have mandates? Why?” he asked.
Hutchinson responded by saying that public officials want to incentivize people to get the vaccine and that allows people to not wear masks. At this point, it’s going to take personal responsibility to solve this problem, he added.
Schools will open in a little more than a month and Hutchinson said now is the time for residents to drive this latest surge downward. This new variant causes two and a half times more hospitalizations and is more contagious, he said. Preliminary data indicates children are more susceptible to this variant.
“The Delta variant … it’s gaining ground. We have to stop it. Luckily, we have a tool to do it,” Hutchinson said.