Arkansas health chief urges vaccines, mask use for children

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 413 views 

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said Wednesday (Oct. 6) that a “statistically significant” increase in children getting COVID-19 and having serious illness should “dispel some of the myths that this is a benign disease in childhood.”

Romero, who made his comments during Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s weekly press briefing, said the data shows that COVID is harmful to children and parents should get children vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. He also said vaccination can help children avoid the dangers of long-haul COVID issues.

Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) data showed an 84.4% increase in pediatric hospital admissions between December and August because of COVID. The data also showed a 27.2% increase in pediatric ICU admissions between January and August because of COVID.

“We have data showing that those children are requiring more ventilator use than in the past. I want parents to understand that there is vaccine available for those individuals ages 12 to 18,” Romero said. “This disease does have significant ramifications and please take advantage of it (vaccine). It’s also the reason why we are recommending masking in school and quarantining in school.”

Mask use in schools has been a controversial and politically charged subject. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Sept. 30 temporarily blocked enforcement of Act 1002 until a trial can be held. Fox set a trial date of Nov. 22-24. Act 1002 banned local school districts and state and local agencies from enforcing mask mandates. A lawsuit was brought by the Little Rock School District, Marion School District, two parents, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, and Pulaski County Sheriff Eric Higgins.

Gov. Hutchinson signed the veto-proof bill into law, but later said he regretted that decision and had asked the court to deny the request.

A recent poll by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College found that 46% of 916 likely Arkansas voters believed school boards should have the authority to decide whether face masks should be required in schools. Another 29% believed the state should require masks to be worn in all public schools, while 22.5% said the state should prohibit schools from requiring face masks.

Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key said COVID cases in public schools and universities continue to decline, noting that “we are very encouraged that the trends are going in the right direction.”

However, he said work to keep students, teachers, faculty and others safe during the school year is taking a toll on those involved.

“It is taking an extraordinary amount of mental energy, emotional energy and physical energy,” Key said, adding that “some of the most positive people that I know are telling me that we need help.”

To help mitigate the stress, Key said the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) is providing free counseling for those employed in public schools. He said the plans for the program will be promulgated through ADE social media and urged those eligible to take advantage of the confidential service.

“We want to stress that your mental health is important to us. It is important to your students. And for us to continue to have a successful school year, we want to make sure you get the assistance you need,” Key said.

The ADH reported Wednesday 882 new COVID cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the cumulative total to 499,882. The number of active cases continues to decline, with 7,879 reported, down 217 in the previous 24 hours. Deaths associated with COVID rose by six to 7,781.

State data also showed 624 hospitalizations, down 40, with ventilator use down 15 to 173.

The ADH also reported 1.351 million Arkansans are fully immunized, with 52.9% of those age 12 and up being fully immunized. Also, 11.3% of those aged 12 and up are partially immunized.

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