Governor preparing state for booster vaccines, offers Arkansas as refuge for fleeing Afghans

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,829 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday (Aug. 19) said Arkansas is preparing to distribute booster vaccines as the state’s daily COVID-19 cases climbed over 3,500 in the last 24 hours. Hutchinson said the restart of schools were the primary factor for the rise.

“I don’t think that means there’s been an outbreak at any school. This is just the natural flow,” Hutchinson said. Health officials said no single district or school was showing an outbreak.

In the last day, Arkansas has seen 3,549 new COVID-19 cases to a total of 24,787 active cases. There have been 38 new hospitalizations, five new ventilator patients, and 16 new deaths bringing the total number of Arkansas deaths to 6,581. Since Feb. 1, Hutchinson said 91.5% of COVID deaths were from those not fully vaccinated.

Hutchinson said it is time to prepare for the new federal recommendation that is encouraging those who have had the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to receive a third shot as a booster at the 8-month mark of their first dose. The governor expected the booster timetable to be a staggered rollout with immune-compromised and the most vulnerable – such as long-term care residents – being first in line.

“I think whenever it’s opened up for the booster shot, you’ll have a very large number of people wanting that,” he said. “Those that made the decision to get the vaccination are not going to decide to not get the booster shot.”

Hutchinson disclosed that Arkansas’ total population now stands at 51.2% partially or fully vaccinated. The Lambda variant has been discovered in the state, but does not pose the risk the Delta variant does, officials said. Contract tracing efforts are “keeping up pretty well right now.”

The state is circulating 500,000 high-filtration masks to school children across the state. Hutchinson expects that effort to be completed this week. He applauded school boards that have adopted mask policies. According to Hutchinson, 118 Arkansas school districts have adopted mask policies, 87 have chosen not to, and 57 have taken no formal action. He noted that the UA and ASU systems as well as Arkansas Tech and UCA have also adopted mask policies.

Hutchinson also touched on the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. As a former official with the Department of Homeland Security, he said Afghanistan is a “military crisis and humanitarian crisis.” He thanked the Afghan nationals who have aided America over the past 20 years and said the state would offer itself as a place of refuge, if needed.

“Arkansas would welcome them,” Hutchinson said.

Also on Thursday the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) reported that 200 Arkansas school districts have COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period. That number is up from 182 a week earlier and only one short of the record high from January of 201 districts.. The information is based on Arkansas Department of Health data obtained Monday.

Of those 200 districts, 50 have 14-day COVID-19 infection rates of 100 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents, or more than 1% of residents, up from 42 a week earlier.

“With the school year beginning in this difficult time, it is imperative that schools use a combination of measures to protect students: vaccination for those who are eligible, masks, social distancing, good hand hygiene, and increased ventilation. School leaders who have made the decision to require masks in the classroom are to be commended. But the most effective way to prevent outbreaks in schools is for the residents of the communities to get vaccinated,” ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson said in a statement.