Governor expands vaccinations to entire 1-B group
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts — currently in Phase 1-B — have been expanded to include all remaining groups in that phase, which has also been expanded to include government employees and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, moves that would allow an additional 180,000 more Arkansans to receive the vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
Hutchinson’s announcement comes in the wake of declining demand for the vaccine across the state.
“What led to this is over the weekend we had some great mass clinics, one of them being in Jonesboro and in other places,” Hutchinson said. “And we noticed that we did not have the demand that we anticipated, which indicates either people are getting the vaccinations in different places, we’re getting more of them covered. But it also could simply indicate that there’s some resistance to the vaccines. We have to keep the demand for the vaccines up, we have to keep the lines full because people want access to those vaccines and and we want to make sure we get them out as fast as we can — within 72 hours — into the arms of Arkansans. In order to do that, we’re continuing to open up the new categories.”
The state began its vaccination efforts in December, with healthcare workers at hospitals and long-term care facilities receiving the first doses during Phase 1-A. Phase 1-B initially began in February with individuals aged 70 and older as well as first responders and education workers, and was later expanded to those age 65 and over.
Since then, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, 1,223,700 doses have been received or allocated, with 742,204 doses administered.
“I did want to emphasize that if it’s your turn to get a vaccination, be patient,” Hutchinson said, “because we’re adding 180,000 and we’ll have over 100,000 doses this week that we could administer. We’ll move through them fairly quickly, but you have to be patient because you can clog the system quickly. And so we should be on target to get through all of these vaccinations in 1-B by my goal, which is the end of March.”
Last week, food manufacturing workers, estimated to include more than 49,000 Arkansans, were added to the list, including those who work in animal food manufacturing; grain and oilseed milling, including rice milling, soybean processing, flour milling and malt manufacturing; sugar and confectionery product manufacturing; fruit and vegetable preserving and specialty food manufacturing; dairy product manufacturing; animal slaughtering and processing, including poultry and meat processed from carcasses; seafood product preparation and packaging; bakeries and tortilla manufacturing; and other food manufacturing, including snack food, coffee and tea, seasoning and dressing.
Monday’s announcement added grocery store and meal delivery workers, postal and package delivery service employees, public transit workers, houses of worship and manufacturing workers.
“Please get your vaccine,” Hutchinson said. “If it’s your turn, get it. And whenever we have a clinic, we want all of those slots filled up. We want people vaccinated in 1- B so we can go to the 1-C category in April. We’re going to continue to get these supplies in, but we want to get them in the arms of Arkansans because it is what’s saving lives and getting us back to more normal.”
Phase 1-C, projected to begin in April, will include workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing, finance, IT and communications, energy, media, public safety and public health.
Meanwhile, the number of new cases of COVID-19 continue to trend downward across the state, with 2,442 reported by the state health department in the past week, bringing the overall total to 324,951 on Tuesday,with 316,000 reported recoveries and 5,343 deaths, up 93 since March 2, along with 3,593 active cases.
In Carroll County, the number of new cases reported by the state health department was 15, bringing the county’s total to 2,728. Tuesday’s report included 2,670 “recoveries,” with 15 active cases.
The number of deaths in the county increased by one, bringing the local death toll to 43.
On Feb. 26, Hutchinson announced he was extending the state’s pandemic emergency declaration through March 31, while at the same time lifting most of the state’s safety restrictions designed to combat the spread of COVID-19. The announcement came after weeks of reduced numbers of new cases in the state, along with a steady reduction in positive testing results.
Extending the emergency declaration, Hutchinson pointed out, also extends a number of executive orders, including approval of telehealth, liability protection for business and remote education.
The lifted directives, which include restrictions on capacity and rules for spacing in restaurants, bars, gyms, salons, indoor and outdoor venues, will now become guidelines which businesses will be encouraged to follow in exchange for protection under the state’s liability directive.
Among the restrictions remaining in place through the end of the month will be the mask mandate, which Hutchinson said would end on March 31 if the state meets certain public health benchmarks, including a daily average positivity rate of 10 percent or less with at least 7,500 testing specimens.