Infection rates and deaths for COVID-19 are on the rise and state government officials are imploring unvaccinated citizens to get a vaccine. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a press conference at the State Capitol on Tuesday (Nov. 23) the number of cases since last week is up about 900 and those hospitalized have increased by 69.
At least seven new deaths from the virus have been reported since yesterday bringing the total Arkansas death count from the disease to 8,627.
“COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve got to be cautious … We don’t want a repeat of last year. I think we can avoid that with an increase in vaccinations.”
The governor stressed that immunity attained through vaccination is much longer lasting than natural immunity which wanes in about 90 days. Those who’ve had the disease and don’t get vaccinated can get it again and could get much sicker a second time around, he added.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero noted that COVID-19 is now among the top 10 causes of death for children in the U.S. and is the top killer of children among all diseases for which vaccines are available.
“This isn’t the flu. This isn’t a cold,” Romero said.
Recent studies in schools, ones that Romero took part in, indicate that mandated masking reduced infection rates for students and staff by 25%. When broken down, staff rates of less infection were 28% while student only rates were 24%.
“I think this shows further evidence that mask mandates prevent infections in children,” he said.
In Arkansas 19,600 doses have been administered to children ages 5-11 which represents about 7.2% of the population. Roughly half of Arkansas’ eligible population is fully vaccinated, while another 11% have received at least one shot.
Another issue facing state lawmakers is the special session the governor plans to call in order to reduce income tax rates in the state. Hutchinson said they’ve tentatively slated for the session to be held during the week of Dec. 6, but that will be contingent on support for the plan. Enough lawmakers have to indicate they plan to vote for the plan before he will call the session, he added.
The governor said additional items such as a possible expanded abortion restriction bill will likely not be part of the session. He is hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will have some guidance on this issue by the time the session is called.
Hutchinson said he doesn’t think President Joe Biden’s plan to release 50 million barrels of oil from the National Strategic Reserve will have any long-term impact on fuel prices. Reducing federal regulations and repairing the country’s fractured supply chain problems will provide relief at the pump, he said.