Tuesday, January 5, 2021

This transcript was auto transcribed by


Andrew DeMillo – AP, Melissa Zygowicz – THV11, John Vinson, Pharm.D. – AR Pharmacy Assoc., Josh White – KAIT, Lance Turner – Arkansas Business, Dr. Cam Patterson – UAMS, Mike Wickline – ADG, Mike McNeil –, Garrett Fergeson – KNWA/Fox 24, Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16, Alex Burch – KATV, Dr. Jose Romero, Secretary Johnny Key (ADE), Leslie Peacock – Ark Times, Sec. Solomon Graves – ADC, Governor Asa Hutchinson, Andy Davis – ADG

Governor Asa Hutchinson  13:40:52

Thank you for joining me for today’s weekly COVID update. I just now noticed behind me the new graphic I hope everybody appreciates starting the 2021 with a new message behind us, The Power of You, and the three W’s as well, just reinforcing the message as to what we need to do as we go into, really the 11th month of this pandemic. I’m delighted to be joined today by Dr. Romero, our Secretary of Health, we have Secretary Key of the Department of Education, also have a General Kendall Penn of the Department of Military, our Adjutant General, Director AJ Gary. Dr. Cam Patterson, great partner from the COVID Winter Task Force as well as Chancellor at UAMS. We have John Vinson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Pharmacy Association, and we have Secretary Solomon Graves that will be remotely with us, you can see him there now. And so as you can see, we have a number of points to make today that are important that will focus on hospitalizations and vaccines. And let me first go to vaccines. And if we can put up the first graphic, that you can see category 1-A, as they’re working on putting that up. So this is phase 1-A, which we’re in now in terms of vaccine administration. And as we’ve stated before, this is for high priority health care workers, long term care facility staff and residents and other high priority groups. As you can see, the only change that we have in our guidelines is that we are following our CDC recommended guidelines except in two areas. One of them is that we did move first responders into 1-A, and this was actually on the original CDC recommendation that they switched later. And we believe that they ought to stay in 1-A because they are putting themselves at risk. They are our first responders, and in our initial planning included our first responders in 1-A. So that will be part of it, as well as the other priority health care workers and our long term care residents. And if you look at this category alone is 180,000 Arkansans are in this category. And our goal is to complete this by the end of January. So we have a lot of work to do, we’re focused on that, we’ll talk more about that. If you go to phase 1-B the next graphic, this reflects the second change that we have, which instead of having age 75-Plus in category 1-B, we have reduced that to age 70-Plus in category 1-B. That is the population that’s at risk in Arkansas, that was the consensus from our health advisors and our in our team. And this is a group at risk, and that we’ve comprised the group with the most deaths from COVID. So we want to put them in 1-B. Now, in terms of 1-C, which you can go to as well. And, and first of all, 1-B to put it in perspective, we had 180,000 in 1-A, in 1-B there are 400,000 not even counting essential workers. And so you can see the monumental shift in volume whenever you go into 1-B. And then 1-C of course is even a larger scope of the population. But that will be people who are 65 to 69, people who are 16 to 64 with high risk medical conditions, and then essential workers as well will that are not covered in 1-B will be in one C and of course the essential workers are broken down based upon CDC guidelines in those categories of front facing in 1-B and these in 1-C. And of course it’s necessary to have these priorities simply because we have a limited number of doses in our supply chain is limited as it comes in. We’ll be able to move more quickly through these errand categories. We estimate that 1-B we’re hoping that we can complete that in 60 days. Again that is over well well well over 400,000 Arkansans. We’re still tabulating those numbers. But that is a significant goal for 60 days. There could be down the road adjustments in 1-B or 1-C, depending upon the acceptance rate, the opinion of our medical advisors. And so we’ll continue to study the response and our needs that are out there, measure that data to make adjustments, but this is what our plans are fixed for 1-A.a, and we’ll continue to identify the needs for 1-B and 1-C. Now everyone is asking a couple of questions. When is it my turn? And how do I get the vaccine? Well, for 1-A, the hospitals and pharmacies are getting are setting up clinics and systems of vaccination for our long term care facilities, our first responders, our health care workers. As I said, that’s about 180,000. For 1-B, which we hope to begin February 1, we will continue to use the pharmacies because they are in every community, will continue to use our hospitals as they complete their health care worker assignment, supporting us on our first responders, they will be assigned a mission consistent with their utilization of their nurses for on bed services. But to make sure that we can use our hospitals to carry out the mission for non-bedside resources for vaccination. We’ll also utilize our local health units, that will be having teams to vaccinate as well. When we get to 1-B. To carry out this mission, we’re not only going to utilize the expertise of the Department of Health, but I’ve tasked ADEM director, our Emergency Management Director, AJ Gary, as well as General Kendall Penn, who’s here today, General Penn, right over here in uniform, to help coordinate the logistics of the vaccination initiative for 1-B and 1-C, and the general population in Arkansas. They will coordinate with the Department of Health Team. This will be a private sector led effort that is coordinated and directed by the state. And so that’s the partnership we have relying upon the private sector, their expertise, their presence and their relationships in their community. And the plan that will be developed in coordination, the Department of Health, and General Penn and Director Gary will be presented on our website by January 15th, so that everyone can see what’s ahead for them gives them over two weeks notice before we get in to February 1, and the logistics of carrying out the vaccination to a broader portion of our population. And other questions that’s asked about the doses. Whenever you go in, do you get both? What do you need to do to get an appointment for the second dose, when you get your first dose, they will schedule an appointment for the second dose. And so that will flow very naturally through the course of the administration of this. And now if you look at the next slide, it shows you where we are today and how much work we have to do. I would emphasize that the data is delayed, and so CDC gave our reporting elements which is our pharmacies or hospitals that administer the vaccinations, three days to report results. And the reason is, we want them vaccinating and, and we give them a little bit more time to put in the information into our system. And so we don’t have moment-by-moment information. But this is the January 5th report that we have received 134,425 doses. And we’ve given out 37,884. And as you can see, in the last 24 hours, we’ve added almost 3000 that total. 28% of those doses have been received and given and that is in this is at our hospitals, our state long term care facilities and our health care providers. Now if you go down to the next category, our long term care by CVS, Walgreens, that is you can see is 5.4% that has been administered. That is going to be picking up pace. I know that they’ve worked very hard to schedule appointments that are long term care facilities, and I expect that to accelerate very quickly. With that, let me turn it over to to John Vinson first, if you would come Where’s john? And give us a little report from the pharmacy side as the progress that you’re making in your plans.

John Vinson, Pharm.D. – AR Pharmacy Assoc.  13:51:13

Thank you, Governor. I’m John Vinson, CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association want to just say a word that our our profession is excited about this week, we want to reassure the public that our pharmacies in the state of Arkansas our pharmacists and their teams are ready to begin vaccinations this week. I want to thank the governor, state of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Health as well as other partners in the healthcare industry. As we are working really well together communicating and this private-public partnership. One of the nice things about the the private-public partnership is that we’re able to use our expertise, that trust that we have with our patients. The pharmacist consistently ranked in the top three is America’s most trusted health or most trusted professions. At the top of that list across all professions, we are in all 75 counties, we have pharmacies and 73 of those 75 counties receiving vaccine this week, in partnership with hospitals with a couple of at least one federally qualified health center and also a department of health unit in Newton County, we will have almost 46,000 vaccines to be administered to health workers in 1-A this week in the community setting. Up until this point, there have only been about 30 pharmacies that had received vaccines for our small to medium sized hospitals in some rural areas that they delivered those. Those were called struck teams, pharmacies, there were eight of those, there have been another 22 for a total of about 30 that had doses that they’re delivering to long term care facilities. We expect that to pick up actually over the next week as those appointments are scheduled. And then finally, we have 212 pharmacies. And that’s that number is there for a reason. That’s the boiling point of water. And my kids go to Bryant High School, if you’ve heard of hashtag (#)212. We’re about to bring the heat to this virus. I’m sick of it. I have family members that have been affected by this and friends. We’re ready now that we have the vaccine to fight back and save lives and our pharmacists are ready for this moment and collaboration in partnership with our other health care providers. As the governor said we in the future, there will be an opportunity for 1-B and 1-C, our profession will be a part of a larger effort will continue to provide vaccines. But I would like to ask the public this week to focus on those appointments for health workers only. For this week, the pharmacies are making those appointments quickly and efficiently for health workers. And if you’re not part of 1-A, there will be an opportunity, as the governor said in the near future to schedule those appointments with both pharmacies, hospitals, physician clinics and other partners as that point is coordinated by General Penn, AJ Gary, and the Arkansas Department of Health. So with that, I would like to say say thank you again. And we look forward to stopping this disease with vaccinating our health workers and then others as we get more vaccine. So thank you.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  13:54:25

Thank you, John, for your partnership and leadership with all the pharmacies in Arkansas. Let me next give the COVID case update. Now we’ll recognize Dr. Patterson and Dr. Romero to talk about vaccinations and hospitalizations. As you can see from today’s case report that we have an additional new cases of 4107. And so you can see the swings from yesterday to today. And you have a new case is a 4107 if you look at the testing on the bottom two lines there, you can see that we have tested about 8700 total PCR tests and antigen test. And some people will look at that and say, Well, it looks like you know, our our positive cases are almost half of what our total testing is done. Well, you’ve got to remember that the positive cases are coming in for a series of days preceding and so there’s delayed reporting there. And so you can’t just simply make that calculation, but clearly this is a high number of cases that has been reported over the last 24 hours. If you look at the deaths very sadly we have 27 additional deaths are hospitalizations have Increased set 27 and our ventilator use his increased 12. We had a very good meeting today with our Winter COVID Task Force that we talked about the hospitalizations and the steps that we can take the ventilator use there is adequate ventilator capacity in Arkansas. But I wanted Dr. Patterson, who’s an instrumental partner at ua ms, but also a key member of our task force to talk about both his perspective on the hospitalizations, but also where we are in the vaccines.

Dr. Cam Patterson – UAMS  13:56:32

Thank you, Governor Hutchinson and good afternoon, we had a couple of milestones yesterday, we had a record number of hospitalizations in the state of Arkansas nearly 1500 COVID-19 positive patients who are impatient in the state of Arkansas, we’ve exceeded that again today, indicating that the upward trajectory of the virus continues to impact the healthcare systems here in the state of Arkansas. And at UAMS, we had the bittersweet celebration of the 1000s discharged safe discharge of a COVID-19 infected inpatient, which begins to put into perspective, the the toll that this takes on healthcare system resources, speaking on behalf of UAMS, but also of the other health care members of the COVID-19 Winter Task Force and other leaders in healthcare administration across the state, we are stressed, we are strained. But the system is not breaking at the present moment. We do have finite resources. And so we do need to be careful as to how we manage those resources. And we need to continue to do everything that we can as a state to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19. While we wait for the effects of the vaccine to impact us in a positive manner. How are we dealing with the stress that this is having on hospital resources? Well, all the hospitals in the state are feeling an impact. We talked about this iteratively and repetitively. We were at a very tough moment in Central Arkansas last week. At that time, we at UAMS we’re about to pull the trigger on moving to Surge Phase Two, we’re currently at Surge Phase One. And we were able to pull back from advancing to Surge Phase Two. But right now, in north, North Central and Northeast Arkansas hospitals are feeling the brunt of the impact. So this is moving through the state and a fairly predictable way. Our Surge Phase Two for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences would be to begin to double occupy single bedrooms. We have fitted those rooms out from an IT standpoint to allow double occupancy, we would increase the nurse staffing ratios on the on the floor services. We currently staff, one to five nurses to patients, we would ramp that up one to six all the way up to one to 10 and then we are doubling and tripling if we can double or triple if we need to the number of patients that our Intensive Care Unit nurses are managing and staffing. In addition to that we have additional space in the hospital that we can convert into critical care unit beds for our patients who are critically ill, and we have the resources to do that. In addition, we have created an expansion of our emergency department into an adjacent parking deck that will allow us to accommodate more flow through the emergency department if that is needed. Across the state, other hospitals have similar surge plans that they are willing and ready to execute if need be. In addition to that, Baptist Health in collaboration with the Department of Emergency Management, is building out additional inpatient bed resources that could be brought online if needed. If the situation becomes acutely critical. We are all monitoring this on on a daily and hourly basis. For right now the system is holding we have capacity to surge and expand if that needs to happen. That capacity is not infinite. But I don’t foresee a critical moment in the next two to three weeks. I do anticipate though that the strain on the healthcare system will continue to increase on a week by week basis as the number of cases continues to increase. I want to thank the Arkansas Department of Health, the Department of Emergency Management and everyone who has been responsible for distributing vaccines, our cohort in 1-A at UAMS and across the state in hospitals has been vaccinated and is nearing completion at UAMS. We started yesterday the second dose of vaccines for individuals in our 1-A cohort, we’ve had no significant adverse events, the virus is safe as the vaccine is safe as advertised. And we are on track to meet or exceed the timetable that has been established by the Department of Health for vaccinating our 1-A team members. So the good news is that this very first phase of vaccine distribution is going smoothly, it’s going safely. And my hope is that we can actually accelerate the timetable that has been set to distribute the vaccine across the state. So want to thank our partners across the state for allowing us to provide great care and hospitals in the state of Arkansas for the present moment stand ready for anything that gets thrown at us.

Dr. Jose Romero  14:02:01

Thank you, Chancellor, Governor. So I’m going to build on what has already been said and give you a little bit more detail. Let me start with the numbers. It’s a record date today for active cases which are 24,480. We also have a record number of hospitalizations. As mentioned by the governor, we’ve increased by 27. And we’re now at 1322. And our ventilator uses increasing we still have capacity in these areas. But if we don’t guard them carefully, we will exceed the capacity that we do have. It’s important to note that right now we are compensating for these increase cases. But these cases will increase. I’m unfortunately need to say that today. Because what we are seeing now is what I and all of us have warned about that is a surge on top of a surge, and how much of a second surge we have on top of that first surge is unknown. It’s concerning that today we have over 4000 cases. Over the weeks, if you go back and look at our reports, you’ll see that we slowly rise over the week to culminate on a Friday with the high numbers. So if we continue with that trend, we will see significant numbers, it is up to each citizen to adhere to the three basic three W’s that we’ve talked about. This can be slowed down, it cannot be completely stopped at this point. But it is up to each citizen to adhere to this. This is not, this is not an exaggeration, the numbers are as they are. So wearing the mask, social distancing, washing your hands is essential, avoiding all non essential congress of joining of individuals is essential to bringing this under control, or we’ll have this problem with beds in the future. A couple of words about our phases. So our phases are being modified. This is not out of the norm. The ACIP that is the CDC guidance organization, left it to the governors to make modifications that were appropriate to each state. So this is not a deviation. It is a modification to meet the needs of the citizens of Arkansas with regard to transition to phases, so each phase will be moved from one to another through gating processes. These gating guidelines will determine the number of individuals vaccinated, the degree of uptake of the vaccine, and we will make a decision to move forward. We have tentative timelines. But as you heard from the governor, we have significant numbers in these phases. And those are going to be important in determining a further modification may come as we get more vaccines in the future, because there are at least two other vaccines in the pipeline that may be available in the next two or three months. Lastly, let me just say that it is important to reiterate that this vaccine has been shown to be safe during all three phases of its investigation during its licensure and in the post licensure phase. We have had 22 reports to what’s called VAERS. That is the CDC reporting system. Since this vaccine has been released in our state. None of these are serious. These are minor side effects. So I’m sorry if I spoke over my time, but I wanted to give that information. Thank you Governor.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:05:30

Good comments Dr. Romero, and we have two quick comments or updates from Secretary Key and then remotely we’ll have Secretary Graves.

Secretary Johnny Key (ADE)  14:05:46

Thank you Governor this week is marks a return to school across the state of Arkansas. Many of the questions that we’ve been receiving at the department centered around COVID emergency leave. As you may remember, in the first semester, the CARES Act Steering Committee approved $15 million to set up a system of up to two weeks of paid emergency leave for school employees if they were tested positive for COVID-19, had to quarantine, or were caring for dependent who was subject to quarantine. Those funds have been depleted at this point. However, we would encourage districts to consider continuing that policy, providing flexible leave options across the state. It has been an important part of our success across the state, so that teachers know that they have that option available and do not have to use their own personal leave that can be used for other types of illnesses. districts can choose to use local funds, or they can use the new federal funds that I mentioned last week, Arkansas is subject to receive over $500 million from the latest federal stimulus act that will be going directly to schools. This is a little over, this is more than four times greater than the amount of the ESSER funds I received in the first semester. And we would encourage districts to take a look at their policies and create flexible leave options for their employees. And they could use local funds or use these new federal funds in order to do that. We will be issuing information through a Commissioner’s Memo to superintendents later this week, so that they will have all the details on how to do that. We are also working with the Arkansas School Boards Association with respect to model policies that districts can consider. Thank you.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:07:42

Thank you, Johnny and Secretary Graves are you with us there. So if you could just make a brief comment as to what’s happening in the Department of Corrections today.

Sec. Solomon Graves – ADC  14:07:56

Our current case count within the Department of Corrections is at 286 active cases among our inmate population. Of those, four current inmate cases are hospitalized. We have 153 staff out from across the department. Yesterday, we began our vaccination program within the department, with our medical staff from our contract medical provider Wellpath. We will continue those vaccinations of medical staff throughout this week. And also begin to vaccinate our security staff who are permanently assigned to medical support roles. We have received 975 doses from the Department of Health that is adequate supply for our 1-A plan, which as previously alluded to includes our medical staff and designated correctional officers.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:08:56

And that’s going to happen this afternoon.

Sec. Solomon Graves – ADC  14:08:58

Yes, sir.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:08:59

That’s great news. Thank you, Secretary Graves. With that we’re happy to turn open to questions.

Andy Davis – ADG  14:09:14

…75 and older, like what is it about Arkansas 70 and older was more appropriate?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:09:21

Well, as you can see from other states, this is one area that, for example, Florida, I believe Texas, they adjusted the age some of it even lower than that. We looked at it in terms of where our at-risk population is in Arkansas. And you know, it was a consensus that 70 would be a more appropriate age to be in the 1-B category I did not want and I don’t think anybody wanted them to wait until a couple more months down the road before they have access to the vaccine. It also will include some of those with additional risk factors because of that age group in and of itself. For all those reasons, it made sense to move that to 1-B.

Leslie Peacock – Ark Times  14:10:16

Are we able to include first responders now because of and less uptake, the vaccine vaccine hesitancy among people be expected to want the vaccine?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:10:34

That’s a good question. The fact that in some situations you’re not having 100% acceptance in fact is probably closer to 70% depending upon the environment and the place and that it does have additional capacity there. And I think that’s reflected on the numbers. And so that gives us the opportunity to look at what else should be there in 1-A. And obviously the first responders was the where are we headed them to begin with and is a good fit for there. Dr. Romero, did you want to add to that?

Dr. Jose Romero  14:11:20

So the addition of the first responders to this group really fits fits Arkansas, because we are rural state, who gets to a crunch to add to an accident first, it’s usually the police of the fire department. So this is different from metropolitan center, where first responders are, for example, ambulance crews or rescue crews. So it fits within this within the scope of the first responder group. And it is what the ACIP plan that each state could go ahead and change it. And again, with regard to the 70 year olds, the original discussions within the ACIP were to have this 65 and older group received the vaccine, but there’s not enough vaccine. I mean, you we were supposed to receive 20 million doses, and we have not received 20 million doses by the end of the year. So we are at this point, trying to fit these groups within the constraints of the available vaccine.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:12:14

Any other questions, Jay?

Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16  14:12:17

….some vaccine on hand, but it seems to be slow rolling out, at least for right now. What have we seen? Is it more of a logistics issue with with getting the vaccine administered? Or is it like Leslie mentioned just hesitancy to take it?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:12:32

Well, first of all, in the hospital environment or health care workers, I think that is gone very quickly. And they have not wasted a moment in getting those vaccines out. In terms of the long term care facilities, it is a greater logistical challenge. You have to have consents. If they came during the holidays, you had to have additional training in some circumstances, the pharmacies needed to have agreements in place. And so it was a slower process. I think it was too slow of a process. And, and I know they’re working very, very hard to make sure that we can meet the goals and more importantly, they want to make sure that they get the vaccines into the right people. Very quickly. John, did you have anything else to add to that?

John Vinson, Pharm.D. – AR Pharmacy Assoc.  14:13:31

All the points and john, all the points that he made are accurate. I would say that for those facilities that chose a local Arkansas pharmacy in their community, those pharmacies were able to receive the vaccine at 100% rate be in those homes within 72 hours. So in the case where there was a local pharmacy selected, it was a little bit quicker, they were more nimble, the larger pharmacies have been working hard, especially since the feedback that they’ve received they’ve all got their home scheduled by January 21. If there’s a home out there that has not gotten a schedule made yet or has a pharmacy to come in, if it’s a licensed facility, that’s a residential care, assisted living or long term care, our organization, Rachel Bunch at the Arkansas Health Care Association, either one of our organizations, you can reach us through our website, and can help partner with them to get it done quickly. So we’re – pharmacists are good problem solvers. We, they make us take, you know, calculus and physics for a reason, even if you don’t use that everyday in your pharmacy, but it certainly doctors to Dr. Patterson, but it certainly helps you to to solve challenges quickly as they arise. One other point about the 70 and over, Governor did ask our members if we would support that and we would. There’s some other practical things about the vaccine has 10 doses per vial or six doses per vial that have to be administered within six hours once the first dose is given. So when you know a simple numbers game, when you have a little bit larger group of people that you could plug into those appointments, the more likely you are to not waste the dose and get those vaccines delivered as soon as possible. So I’d add that as well.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:15:18


Lance Turner – Arkansas Business  14:15:19

With hospital capacities,I guess, throwing more precious, where are we in terms of I mean, we’re gonna have to start looking at elective procedures, non essential procedures, those kinds of cutting back on those kinds of things. You know, are we nearing that point or do we know?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:15:36

Well, first of all, the discussion with the Winter COVID Task Force today, which has a large number of hospital administrators on there, that the consensus is and the Department of Health has the same view, we do not want to have to pass a restriction on elective surgeries. That creates a whole host of additional problems. And so the consensus was, we need to develop mechanisms and commitment by the hospitals, that they will increase their ICU capacity, but give them the flexibility to do it in their own way. And so that’s the path that we’re going to increase ICU capacity, but give the hospitals flexibility as to how they work through that. And, and so we’re gonna be initiating that in the next 10 days. And we have a great acceptance by the hospitals on that. Cam, do you want to elaborate on that?

Dr. Cam Patterson – UAMS  14:16:44

Yeah, I would agree with Governor Hutchinson, you know, the key is is how much capacity that we have, it’s not how we get there. Many hospitals already have placed limitations on services. At UAMS, we don’t do an elective procedure that will require that patient to occupy an inpatient bed, for example, we want that bed to be available for somebody who’s acutely ill. And we have accommodations for further reductions and elective procedures. Other hospitals can accomplish this in other ways by popping up new beds that weren’t available as long as they can staff them. The important thing is, how much capacity that you have, it’s not how you get there.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:17:21

Let’s go remotely, is there any questions from offline? 

Andrew DeMillo – AP  14:17:29

Governor, this is Andrew APD. Want to ask you about two areas: on vaccinations in this maybe more for Dr. Romero or Dr. Patterson, Want to see is resistance to getting the getting a vaccine? Is that an issue that you’re that you’re seeing among healthcare workers? You know, the people that you would expect to to be kept getting this? And how do you get over?

Dr. Cam Patterson – UAMS  14:17:59

So that that’s actually an excellent question because if healthcare workers are resistant to receiving the vaccine, then then laypeople probably going to be even more resistant. If you look across the country for reluctance to get the vaccine at two months ago, was about 50%. That number is increased and this is getting to our the number of people who are willing to get the vaccine has increased and is approaching 60%. We surveyed our employees at UAMS. 4000 employees responded and 30% of employees at UAMS working in a healthcare environment with gold standard information about the safety of the vaccine, 30% are reluctant to get the vaccine. And the main reason why people at UAMS are reluctant to get the vaccine are concerns about safety. Dr. Romero spoke very clearly about the safety signal and how powerful the positive safety signal is for the vaccines, the two vaccines that are currently available, it’s really imperative upon us to get the message out. Not just the health care community, but to the entire community here in the state of Arkansas, that these are safe vaccines, that we can’t rely on information that’s coming from untrustworthy sources, and that we need to provide transparent scientific information about the benefits of these vaccines, which far exceed any adverse consequences. We’ve not had a single significant adverse event in the 4000 plus vaccines that we’ve administered at UAMS. And I couldn’t say that about a flu vaccine.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:19:41

And we will also be doing education efforts, marketing efforts as we move through these phases to assure the safety and the importance of getting the vaccine. Andrew, did you have a second part to your question?

Andrew DeMillo – AP  14:19:59

You know, also wanted to ask on the COVID leave for teachers, for you or Secretary Key, it sounded like the the focus was on encouraging districts to offer this leave. What is the Why? Why encourage this rather than then require them to to provide the leave?

Secretary Johnny Key (ADE)  14:20:23

We offered it as a result in the first semester as a result of the the CARES Act funds that the state had and it was a lot of discretion there. So that was state funded. Now this is not state-funded. We cannot as a state mandate, how districts spend their ESSER funds that are coming from the state government. They they fall under several big buckets of allowable expenses. So to mandate that they provide this leave at a local level would in our opinion, violate that congressional, the sense of Congress with respect to the districts flexibility of how they need to use their funds.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:21:08

Next question.

Melissa Zygowicz – THV11  14:21:12

…THV 11. My question is Will students be required to take standardized tests at schools this year, especially those kids that are full time online?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:21:22

I could answer but I’m going to let   Secretary Key answer it.

Secretary Johnny Key (ADE)  14:21:31

So thanks, Melissa, I appreciate that question. And we do intend to have testing for students, it is still required by the federal government. Both the I’ve just read recently, both the Senate and the House chairs of the education committees in Congress have are insisting on states administering these tests. Now, the question of how they are administered or where they are administered, we expect that they will be administered on site. So we are working with districts in their efforts to to work with their parents, if they are if their students are working remotely or now to have situations that where they can come on site in the spring to for the administration of these tests, the requirement for 95% testing is still in place. This is part of our contract with the federal government, which almost $800 million of funding to the state hinges on meeting the terms of what in essence is a contract with with the federal government. So yes, we do plan to administer these tests on site.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:22:46

I’ll just add as a as governor, as a policymaker, to me, it’s important to know what the impact of the pandemic has been on education and their progress. And you only really know that by testing, and you will learn as to, you know, what’s been the impact of online, on some students, perhaps positive on other students negative. But we know we might learn a little bit as to how to respond to this better in the future. And so testing to me, is very important for us to know what steps to take in the future. Next question.

Mike McNeil –  14:23:28

… Arkansas is a rural state, and even with the internet, vital public health information doesn’t always make it or make it in a timely manner to areas outside the Little Rock media market. What are the plans? And what are the resources that are going to be used to push vaccination information and schedules out to the four corners of the state?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:23:52

Well, our marketing efforts will continue on, we’ll cover all four corners of the state, it’s we are a rural state. And so every plan that we have will incorporate the messaging to every part of the state, including the rural areas, and those in the you know, in South Arkansas. In addition to that, obviously, we are trying to do everything we can to put information in a timely way on the Department of Health website, which is accessible. And so just as I indicated, the plan will be on the website by January 15. As to how they can access if you’re in one B category, the vaccines and the steps that should be taken. So that information is available and the marketing efforts, the education efforts we have on our task force, representing from South Arkansas, and of course, there’ll be a strong voice for you as well. Next question. Hey, Governor. In just a second, I heard CHANNEL SEVEN please earlier, it’s CHANNEL SEVEN.

Alex Burch – KATV  14:25:03

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I’m wondering with us hitting some all time highs and several the numbers today and this warning from Dr. Romero that things will get worse. Are you considering re implementing any restrictions?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:25:19

Well, I’ll consider it any recommendations that come come to me. Whenever you look at where we are right now, I think the general consensus of everybody in this room and they can step up to the microphone if they disagree with it. But that the cases that we’re seeing is are coming from home gatherings. They’re coming from social gatherings outside of the work environment and it’s the result of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then New Years, that’s not an area that I’m willing to regulate in terms of the home environment or those outside of the workplace and in the social arena. And so we have to take individual responsibility behind me is The Power of You. And that’s what we ask people to do every day, a very clear message. It is a national message, it is a state message. And we, that’s where we are right now in this. To me, there’s two keys to victory. It is the vaccine, and it is vigilance. And it is individuals exercising their protective measures for others. Next question.

Josh White – KAIT  14:26:41

Hey Governor, this is Josh White with KAIT. I noticed in the 1-A category teachers were not placed on that list. And I’m just curious why since they are exposed to around 25 to 30 kids in a room for eight hours a day for five days a week. That seems like it would expose them quite a bit.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:27:06

Well, we’re fortunate to have someone that served on the national committee that’s looked at this from every perspective, Dr. Romero.

Dr. Jose Romero  14:27:19

So the ACIP, the advisory board, to the CDC developed these guidelines. And in so doing, they looked at risk factors for infection, ages in which individuals were infected. And as I mentioned before vaccine availability, it was felt that that first tier, that tier of long term care facility residents and health care providers were the most important to deliver a vaccine to. We needed to have our health care infrastructure intact. In order to deal with cases as we move forward with a paucity of vaccine. At the same time, we knew that there was a high risk that mortality in the United States was comprised in big chunk and big portion by individuals living in these long term care facilities. So this is a matter of having to decide between what you have and what the risks are. And at that time, the major groups that were identified were those in our 1-A group at this point, and this may be changed, as I said before by the governors as they see appropriate. Thank you.

Josh White – KAIT  14:28:29

Just a follow up question there, Dr. Romero, into one eight is the college and university student health centers, which doesn’t seem to fall into that category whatsoever. So can we you care to address why that group got in and any amount of teachers did not get in?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:28:49

Well, first of all, the health care healthcare workers in the schools are in 1-A, and so their health care worker, the health nurses in the schools, they will be scheduled for vaccination. I know personally have some that have already been vaccinated. And so they are just it sounds like the same situation in the college that you’re referring to. That if they are in a health nurse and a college, then they will have access to the 1-A vaccination as well. Next question.

Garrett Fergeson – KNWA/Fox 24  14:29:27

Governor, this Garrett Fergeson with KNWA Fox 24 News in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’m looking at the report that I just pulled up that was posted by the Arkansas Department of Health on their website and the 14 day moving average and percent positivity by county. The only county that has reported under 10% is in beta counting. Every other county in Arkansas is above that 10% CDC recommendation for community spread. So going back to channel 7’s question about the limitations in bars, restaurants, salons, barber shops, do you feel that the state could do more? Or are you just looking for recommendations and considering limitations back to like, say a one-third restaurant capacity or one-third community capacity in public buildings and private businesses?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:30:21

Well, as I said before, and I’m going to ask Dr. Romero, he can make his comments afterwards. But the cases that we’re seeing, in rather very large numbers are coming from those social environments. They’re coming from the home gatherings that are not related to everything you just described. And so it makes no sense to me to put a business out, that’s on the margins right now, where you’re going to be adding to the unemployment list, and the people looking for a food assistance, if it doesn’t make sense from a data standpoint, and so that’s the basis of it. And so we’re at two-thirds capacity. That’s, you know, we have a limitation on the bars. And that’s not very well received out there. But we think that makes sense. And we make that judgment, Dr. Romero.

Garrett Fergeson – KNWA/Fox 24  14:31:26

And on that point, Governor before Dr. Moreau speaks with that limitation of the 11pm when contract tracers are saying that they are not finding that that 11pm is helping with the spread, what is the, I guess, the advantage of keeping that through February, or until February?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:31:46

Well, I guess if you use that logic, is there’s not a reason to keep restaurants at two-thirds capacity if our cases are going up. So let’s just let them go to full capacity. That doesn’t make sense, either, to me, and so I think, you know, for example, in the restaurants, the two-thirds is necessary to you could have the space limitations and spacing that you need. So there’s a logic to that, you know, in terms of the bars, I’d love to talk to the contact tracers if the data, you know, that’s one of the reasons that our restriction is only for 30 days. If we see that that’s not necessary. I’ll be the first one, to be delighted to lift that.

Dr. Jose Romero  14:32:36

So to address the the first question, our epidemiologist look at the contact, tracing data and contact investigation data, among those questions that are asked our sites which have been visited in the last 14 days, and we have not found any statistical information that indicate that bars, restaurants are the sources. So that data is presented to the governor, we discuss it, there is no concrete data that that where it’s coming from, it is clear that given the large number of cases that we’re seeing, and we’re continuing to see that this is a small gathering spread, I only have to look in my own neighborhood, people that traveled out of state, people that had gatherings in their own fat in from their own family outside in their houses. So that is where these spreads are coming from. Yes, so the 11pm curfew is a way of decreasing, increase socialization, we alcohol and COVID don’t mix. Right? You know, this is not something that is your, your, your your your ability to make correct decisions goes down in a social environment. Right. So we close these bars earlier, we remove people from these environments and try to decrease it in those settings.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:34:04

Is there any other question here at the table? We got Mike Wickline here.

Mike Wickline – ADG  14:34:09

The legislature is going to be in town next week. Where are the legislative sliders? On the are they essential workers?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:34:19

They are in 1-B essential government workers. There in 1-B which is the February 1 hopeful timeframe.

Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16  14:34:33

Testing questions do does the the current PCR test pick up on sort of the newer strain that’s out there? And if not, are we gonna start testing for that, and then also to our cycle threshold numbers being tabulated here in Arkansas, and Florida’s started to tabulate reports?

Dr. Jose Romero  14:34:56

So we can detect this by finding differences in the way where the tests are done. So we amplify different pieces of the of the virus. And we can we know from the CDC, already, there was a there was a recommendation yesterday that if we find a certain pattern, that those specimens need to be referred to the CDC so that they can be sequenced. Now. This is sequencing these is not a it’s not a difficult test. This is done all the time at the university, you know, and my background actually started in sequencing these types of viruses. This can be done in any laboratory. You just need to set it up and get it to run. So we are sending specimens there. we’re attempting to identify them. We have certain specimens that are suspicious and have been sent for analysis. It will not be unusual to find this virus here. This is something that is widespread, and because you’re just finding one or two Now, doesn’t mean you’re not going to find a whole bunch in a little while. this has been around for a while, since at least September.

Dr. Cam Patterson – UAMS  14:36:01

So I concur with everything that Dr. Romero said, I would point out that these variants have public health importance and consequences. But from a clinical standpoint, whether somebody has one of these variants or not, has no impact on how we treat these individuals. So there’s no clinical utility for me, getting a sequence variant analysis doesn’t change how I’m going to be treated, it doesn’t change how I’m going to respond to the vaccine or to any the medications. So I want the, you know, the public to know that, you know, they shouldn’t, you know, expect or need to be tested for these variants, because on an individual basis, it is not important from a public health standpoint, in terms of transmissibility, it’s an enormous issue.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:36:55

We have time for two more questions, Lance at the table, and I think I heard maybe one remotely, Lance?

Lance Turner – Arkansas Business  14:37:03

session is coming up. Your Business Task Force has sort of hinted they may have some recommendations and some possible legislation around COVID. And around some things specifically for business. Do you know do you have a preview of what those things can be heard what they’re thinking in terms of?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:37:20

I have, and I’ve asked them to be engaged during the session, in terms of making sure that some of the protections that they have articulated and supported recommended are reaffirmed by the legislature, one of them being liability immunity during this pandemic. Also could be telemedicine or it could be those things that enhance commercial agreements through E signature. And so these are all of interest to them. It could be broader than that. But I’ve asked them to be engaged as needed in the legislative session. And then do I have one question remotely that I heard?


Yes, Governor, it’s Neal Gladner in Hot Springs, this is for Dr. Romero. CDC talked a couple of days ago, but maybe the antigen tests are not quite as reliable as a first thought. Could you give us some insight into if that has an impact on our testing infrastructure, and how we should understand that as population?

Dr. Jose Romero  14:38:27

So as with everything that has gone on with this pandemic, it is in a state of flux in the state of evolution as we learn more about it? Yes, the CDC has pointed out that in certain circumstances, a negative test is not a negative, and that is what the Chancellor has said before, right that it needs to be backed up by a PCR test. So there are guidelines now, algorithms that are well worked out, and that all clinicians should understand when they order these rapid antigen tests. A negative does not mean you’re not infected at this point. And it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be not infected in the future. So again, antigen tests are only a window in time and they have their limitations. The best test is the PCR test.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:39:09

If I could add, and correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Romero, but originally, it was estimated at 85% accuracy for antigen test. I think at some point, they indicated it was a little bit higher than that. I think the most latest I heard 80%. So to me, it’s all within the plus or minus area. But it’s something that we can still use as a good effective tool. And then we have one question here

Andy Davis – ADG  14:39:44

…from one page to another, is that based on the assumption that production is going to ramp up of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine and other vaccines come online, could that be sped up?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:40:00

Well, the timeframes that we gave particularly in 1-A is based upon the current supply chain. So if the supplies continue unabated, and as promised, and we would should be able to meet that if we do our job and getting that administered. In terms of 1-B, it’s all dependent upon the supply and the reliability of that. The 60 days that we estimated that we could do that is a huge task that we’ll be able to provide more information on once I get a report from General Penn and AJ Gary on this specific plan and identifying exactly the number of essential workers that will be impacted. We have 400,000 before you get to essential workers, so I need to see that final number. But based upon our current supply, I think 60 days is a good goal for that. And as Dr. Patterson said, it’d be nice to have that even to beat those goals. But that depends upon our ability to administer and the supply. And if another vaccine comes online, we’ve got to administer much more quickly. But that’s great news for us. With that, Leslie?

Leslie Peacock – Ark Times  14:41:22

So you anticipate any problem with the change of administrations and how the logistics of getting a vaccine?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  14:41:32

I hope one thing I have stressed to the Biden transition team is a seamless transfer of information and coordination. You do not want to disrupt something that’s working. And I know they’ll take a fresh look at it. I will be on a call with the Biden transition team tomorrow, I believe it is. And I’ll have an opportunity to re emphasize that but also to make sure they understand where we are, and you know, the challenges that we face. So I expect there to be a smooth transition there. There is a learning curve. There’s a big learning curve, and I hope that that doesn’t cause any delays or disruption. Thank you very much.