With new COVID-19 cases and deaths continuing to rise, measures taken by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to respond now include bringing a 20-person military “medical team” to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock to support its statewide pandemic response.
The governor said Wednesday (Sept. 8) during his weekly briefing that the Department of Defense group will consist of 14 nurses, four doctors and two respiratory therapists. Of the 14 nurses, four will work in critical care.
“That is a lot of medical capability that will be blended in with the existing staff,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) on Wednesday reported 2,181 new COVID cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the cumulative total to 467,496. There were also 34 more COVID deaths, bringing the total to 7,142. Hospitalizations fell by 19 to 1,209, and COVID patients on ventilators fell by one to 320. Active cases declined by 293 to 19,500.
Gov. Hutchinson also reported that 49.2% of the state’s population 12 and older are fully vaccinated and 12.6% are partially vaccinated.
In response to a media question about Arkansas legislators who continue to dismiss the need for vaccines, Gov. Hutchinson said boosting the vaccination rate is “what every medical profession says we need to follow.” He said the data shows that vaccines save lives and reduce hospitalizations. He said getting vaccinated is more than just an individual responsibility.
“It’s about individual responsibility. And everybody has an individual decision. We also do have a responsibility to our community. And whether it’s been smallpox or other communicable diseases, we’ve always looked at the good of the community as well, and high vaccination rates are what got us through those different episodes in history. And that’s what we’re asking everybody to do is act for their own health interest, but also for the good of the community,” he said.
Numbers presented during the briefing also show that required mask policies in school districts reduce COVID cases by almost 27%. Showing school associated cases per 100,000 residents, schools with no mask policies had 1,895 cases, 26.8% more than the 1,387 cases in districts that required mask use.
Dr. Mike Cima, the ADH state epidemiologist, said the department is working to provide more context to the numbers. For example, they want to look at how vaccination rates compare in the districts with different mask policies.
Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key said there are around 470,000 students enrolled in K-12, with about 24,000 students registered in home schools. He said only three school districts have had to shift to partial or virtual school as a result of new COVID cases.