White House Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Bechara Choucair was in Arkansas Tuesday (July 20) meeting with officials from the Arkansas Department of Health about rising COVID-19 cases in Arkansas and the alarmingly low vaccination rate.
State health officials reported 1,875 new cases in the last 24 hours. No new deaths occurred in the last day, but the death toll surpassed 6,000 on Monday. There are currently 815 Arkansans hospitalized with only 43 ICU beds available statewide.
“We are concerned about what we’re seeing when it comes to the rise in the cases here in Arkansas, and a few pockets across the country as well,” Dr. Choucair told content partner KATV. “If you have a rise in the Delta variant, which is very transmissible, and you have pockets of low vaccination rates, that is a recipe for a spike, and unfortunately that’s what we’re starting to see. For vaccinated people, they’re fairly very well protected. Those who are unvaccinated remain at risk.”
Choucair spent the day with Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero. He said strategies were discussed to get more people vaccinated. Pop-up clinics, reliance on trustworthy medical professionals, and as much convenience as possible are keys to improving Arkansas’ low full vaccination rate, which stands at about 35%.
“We have to continue to double down on,” Choucair said.
The White House doctor said that with school starting a month from now it is imperative that masking be utilized as a containment and prevention strategy. However, Arkansas lawmakers banned mask mandates in the recent legislative session, which means masking will be voluntary.
“I think the CDC guidance is very clear on masks. If you’re unvaccinated you have to wear a mask to protect yourself, protect your family, protect your neighbors, protect your communities. For those who are vaccinated, they’re fairly well-protected, and then it goes back to your personal choice,” he said.
“If you’re fully vaccinated and you feel more comfortable wearing masks because you’re seeing increase in cases in the community… please do that. I think the fact remains that if you’re unvaccinated, you remain at risk, so please wear a mask and also consider getting vaccinated,” Choucair said.
You can watch his full interview at this link.
Editor’s note: Content partner KATV’s Elicia Dover contributed to this report.