Andrew DeMillo – AP, Alex Burch – KATV, Lorrie Trogden, Neal Gladner, Dr. Jose Romero, Allie Lynch – 5News KFSM, Andy Davis – ADG, Governor Asa Hutchinson
Governor Asa Hutchinson 12:50:02
Thank you for joining me for today’s weekly COVID-19 update. I’m pleased to be joined today by Dr. Jose Romero of the Department of Health, along with Secretary Johnny Key of the Department of Education. And today we have Lorrie Trogden, who’s the executive director, president of the Arkansas Bankers Association for an announcement as we conclude this today. First, I want to give the vaccine report, I’ll make an announcement and we’ll go to our case report. So let’s first look at where we are in our vaccine distribution here in Arkansas and administration. As you can see, from this, you have on the left side, the state program on the right side, the federal program, which means that the federal government sends it directly to those that are managing that program. In the state program, we have given out a total of 80,000. We’ve received an additional 80,000 doses. In the last 24 hours, we’ve given out 12,000 doses we’re at a 59% rate. And you can see sometimes people ask, Well, what happens to the other 40%? Well, you know, for example, you know, I talked to one hospital, they have about 1,000, that are there for the 1,000 doses that are reserved for the second dose, and so you multiply that across the state. And so much of what you see in the reserves, or what’s not been administered are those that are being held for the second doses. So that includes all of it in the doses received in the state program. All total, if you look down underneath that both the state and federal program combined, we’ve given out 863,000 doses to Arkansans. And then the bottom line is the individuals who are partially immunized, which is at least one dose, fully immunized, which would be either two doses or one dose. If you’re have the j&j vaccine, that’s 303,000 that have been fully immunized, which is 10% of the Arkansas population. And so it’s exciting for us to see that go up. If you look at the next graph, and you’re gonna see, we’re just looking at one age category, which is a 65 plus, which is the most vulnerable. Right now, 55.3% of Arkansas residents 65 and above have received at least one dose of the vaccine, fully vaccinated at 27.2. Obviously, that will go up as they get, some of them will be getting their second dose that is encouraging to see that number. And then that leads me to an announcement that I want to make today. And that announcement is that effective today, we’re opening the eligibility for vaccines to all in category 1-C. the reasons for this is that President Biden and the administration emphasize that by May one, they wanted everyone to be eligible all Americans to be eligible for a vaccine, they’re increasing the production. And they hope to have that supply increased in May. And this has encouraged the states to accelerate their opening up of the eligibility criteria in order to get to that goal by May one. As you know, we’ve had 1-A, we’ve completed we’re in 1-B now, not everybody in 1-B has been vaccinated, but it is important to move to 1-C so that we can open up more and keep the demand coming for the vaccine to make sure there’s not any gap. And to give everyone the best opportunity to get the vaccine, who wants one and who needs it, it’s also important to go ahead and open it up to 1-C, because there has been some slowdown in parts of the state, on the demand side. Particularly in the rural parts of the state. And the urban parts of the state, you still have those that are trying to get in and get the waiting list, but we want to move the state together. And so we’re going to open it up to 1-C across the state. There is a lower acceptance rate for the vaccine in the rural areas of our state which we have to overcome. In those environments, we get the supply there, but in many instances we’ve had a low acceptance rate, we have to increase that. At the same time, we’re increasing the opportunity for those all across the state to get vaccinated as well. Let me go to the 1-C category which is up here that outlines everybody who is in 1-C, which is Arkansans, aged 16 to 64, with health conditions that risk their risk for severe COVID-19. And so the specific itemization of those would be on the Department of Health website that outlines the underlying conditions in 1-C. And then the second part of it is there, all of the other essential workers in energy, finance, food, service, IT, legal media, etc, that’s listed on there, the 1-C includes those, they will be immediately available to go get their vaccines. And then the third part are those people that risk reside in high risk settings includes that those that are incarcerated or those that’re living in group homes, or congregate settings. So these are obviously ones that have waited very patiently, we’re glad to open that up, I would remind everyone that just because we’re opening it up to 1-C category does not mean that you’re going to be able to get an appointment this week, or perhaps even next week, because there’s almost a million people in this category. 1 million Arkansans, and we still have not fully completed 1-B in all areas of the state. But we want to make sure that we keep the demand there. And so call for an appointment, it might be a while before you get that appointment, be patient, understanding that there is that backlog, but we want to have that open to you. I’d also remind everyone that the supply is still limited. So we are getting 84,000 or 85,000 doses a week. And it takes a lot of weeks to build up to the number that we want to accomplish in Arkansas. I just was on a call with the White House, and they indicated that nationwide, there’ll be an increase in state allocations by 150,000 doses this week, 150,000 doses spread across the United States of America is not many, in terms of an increase in Arkansas, there’s probably fewer about 1000 doses that we will have new doses this week. And so you can see the limitation on the supply. And so if everyone feel free to call the toll free number, it leads on the Department of Health website. But if you call that number, the responders will identify where you can make a reservation for an appointment for a vaccine, they will help you if you call this number, and that is on the Department of Health website. And now let’s go to the case numbers. And I’m going to spend a little bit of time just really re-emphasizing where we are right now in this pandemic. And you can see our case numbers are still low. We had 396 cases in the last 24 hours, new cases, that’s down from a week ago, we have deaths are at 12. It’s always a sad day we have Arkansans who die. But we’re glad to see it not at the high level it has been before our testing is comparable to last week. But you can see that it’s much more the demand for testing has declined some hospitalizations is up seven ventilators is no increase in that. And so you can see if you go then to the next chart, I’m going to show you through graphs a little bit of where we are. This is a seven day rolling average of confirmed and probable cases in Arkansas. And you can see from that, that we’re at the peak in mid January. It’s been on the decline since then we’ve had a couple of data correction times that gave us a spike. And you can see where we’re flat right now. And I want to mention that again. When we see additional graphs, you go the next one. This is a new one that you haven’t seen before. And this is the seven day rolling average on confirmed and probable cases. But it’s by date of symptom onset. And so we haven’t used this before, but it’s instructive because as you know, whenever we get a positive case, that could have been, you know, a week old sometimes. And they always ask, Well, when did you have the onset of symptoms, because that tells you whenever it is at the peak point of being contagious. And so it tells you the from this a little bit better idea as to the spread in the community. And so again, the peak was on January 7, and it’s been on a very steep steady decline each day and then we reach this plateau. At about 400, 300 to 400 cases. And that plateau is a reminder to everyone, that when you’re at a plateau and you’re not continuing to decline, you could go either direction. And so we have to stay disciplined, we have to stay focused that the virus is still out there in the state, and that we have to take the precautions to make sure we’re not part of passing it along. The next one is similar, and this is the deaths by date of death. And so this is not the date that we receive the death certificate, which can be accumulated from a couple months ago and throws it out of kilter in terms of our graph. This is the rolling average by date of death and this is encouraging that there’s been a consistent decline in death since the peak that began on January 15. And hopefully we’ll keep that going in the same direction. Next one. Hospitalizations, you can see as a steep decline down to 257. Next, you see the positivity rate for PCR and antigen test is down below the 5%, which is really good. Because our goal was 10%. We made that CDC guideline and we really halved that below 5%. We hope that that can certainly stay down. And then I want to introduce now Lorrie Trogden to come and make a comment and they will bring back Dr. Romero. To wrap it up today. And Lorrie, I want to thank you for the Arkansas Bankers Association partnering with our pharmacies. Sometimes the pharmacies do not have the space that’s needed for a clinic. And the bankers have said you can utilize space that’s available in our different locations to have a vaccination clinic. We appreciate this partnership. It’s just an example of people working together to make sure we get the vaccines in the arms of Arkansans. Lorrie.
Lorrie Trogden 13:02:22
Thank you, Governor. There are currently several clinics scheduled with more being added every day. As an example right now Arvest bank has a clinic scheduled for this Thursday, specifically on their at their mortgage center on John Barrow road, you can call Cornerstone pharmacy to make an appointment. All appointments are going through the pharmacy, and that those locations are the cornerstone on highway 10 and Rodney Parham. To find out if your local pharmacy and local bank are having a shot clinic, you need to call your local pharmacy and check to see if there’s some something near you. We appreciate the partnership with Governor with the governor’s office and with the pharmacy Association. And our goal is to help get shots in every arm.
Dr. Jose Romero 13:03:14
So thank you. I’m just here to reinforce what the governor has said that we have reached a plateau that is very good. But as stated, We can go either way we can continue to go down or continue to increase. And we’ve seen that in other situations. So it’s very important that we continue to maintain social distancing, masking whenever we go out. Even if you receive the vaccine, you should go ahead and mask. The other thing that I want to stress is the importance of the vaccination. What is going to get us through this pandemic are the vaccines more than anything else. And those vaccines are becoming more and more available throughout the state. We’re getting more vaccines. We are targeting areas where there is some reluctance and with education, we will make this vaccine available as it becomes more available to us. The vaccine is safe and effective. We have three different forms. Some that require two doses, one that requires one dose, they are equally effective in preventing death and preventing hospitalizations. And that is the most important thing that the citizens need to understand. So please, we need you to accept the vaccine as you can see from the governor’s report, you know, right now, about 55% of our 65 and older have received one dose that is not enough to have herd immunity, we need to have somewhere around 70 to 90% of our population immunized. So we can get through this. We’re going to have more and more vaccine over the next few weeks. And let’s get our vaccines. Thank you very much.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:04:46
With that, we’ll turn it over questions or remind everyone if there’s an education question. I do have the secretary here for that.
Andy Davis – ADG 13:04:54
So you mentioned that there’s been some reluctance to get the vaccine in rural areas. What do you think is the reason for that and also just more broadly As a state why we’re tending to rank toward the bottom in terms of the percentage of residents who have gotten a shot.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:05:12
percent of residents have gotten the shot? Well, in terms of our rural residents, I think it’s I don’t know all the reasons while there’s while why there is a hesitancy, but whenever you see a lower case count in a community, I think they do not see the same level of risk for themselves the same level of urgency, less dense population, it’s easier to isolate. So it could be a combination of those factors that are somewhat logical. But, you know, it should not be based certainly on anything other than the science of it. And I would emphasize that to wherever you are in the state, we travel, we go to ball games together. And if we’re going to get to the more normal life, we need to have everyone get vaccinated. So you know, sometimes people say, Well, I think I’ll just wait a while I know, it’s my turn, but I’ll wait a while. And I’ll get it. And, you know, after we see more people have experienced with it. So I think you’ll see the acceptance rate increased significantly over time. As to where we rank, you know, I do watch that from as much as I can. Whenever you look at the the rural nature of our state, that’s probably part of the reason, the acceptance rate. But all I can say is that we’re working very hard every day to get that out. And to make sure it’s available to every arkansan and to encourage them to take it. Any questions from afar?
Neal Gladner 13:06:50
Good afternoon Governor. It’s Neil Gladner in Hot Springs. Sunday morning on one of the national shows you mentioned wait for guidance from the federal government about the COVID relief money that is coming in this next wave and and the impact it might have on the legislative bills that have to do with taxes. On the White House Conference Call this morning, did you get any additional guidance about when that might be forthcoming?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:07:13
No, I did not. The White House call today was focused on vaccine distribution. And so the we did not get into the details the American rescue plan. The I know that the Treasury Department is working on guidance. And that’s really critical for us to maintain the flexibility that the states need, particularly when it comes to the direction that we’ve been going in Arkansas far before the pandemic, which is to lower taxes in the state. So I have advised the legislative leadership that I hope that they will proceed with the tax cuts that I outlined we could do in our balanced budget. And we should not let federal restrictions weigh in on that direction that we’re going as a state, I think we can work through that and make sure that that’s protected. But it is a point of nervousness whenever you see the language in the bill that is really punitive to those states that are trying to lower taxes and the language is that the States cannot use any of those funds directly or indirectly, to offset any net tax reductions. And so we’re going to watch that very carefully as that guidance is developed by Treasury. Next question.
Allie Lynch – 5News KFSM 13:08:35
This is Allie Lynch with five news in Northwest Arkansas. With Spring Break around the corner and the concern of people going out of town and possibly being exposed to COVID variants. does this impact the timeline of lifting the mascot mandate on the 31st?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:08:51
Well, first, let me answer your question, which is very good question. As you see students that are going out for spring break, and others that are traveling for spring break. And if they travel and are in congregate settings, we’re urging everyone when you come back from spring break, if you’re going back in into an institution of higher education, or you’re coming back to join the family, go ahead and get a test. That’s a good time to get a test just to make sure that you’re not going to be taking something from another state or or a party somewhere and bringing it back and spreading it around in the state. So that’s a good opportunity for everybody to get tested. What was the second part of your question there?
Allie Lynch – 5News KFSM 13:09:41
My second part was does this impact the timeline of lifting the mass mandate on the 31st
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:09:48
the mass mandate was outlined as being lifted on March 31. If we meet particular guide of criteria that we set with with our Department of Health, then it looks at the hospitalization rate. And it looks at other factors. So that is something that we will still look at make an announcement on as we get closer to march 31. But as to we look at this specific criteria, and that’s the factors that we’re looking at, Andrew, I know you’re trying to get in there. So other than having a lot of fun, seeing Neil, talk over you. I’m delighted to hear from you today. Andrew,
Andrew DeMillo – AP 13:10:31
Thank you, sir. had two questions. One COVID, non one non COVID. One asks you about sb 301, the legislation that I think has been sent to your desk dealing with requiring the state or refund virus related fines? I know you said you’re opposed to that, wanted to see if you can elaborate on that. And your whether or not your opposition rises to the level that you you plan on vetoing this. And then non COVID question want to ask you about the hate crimes legislation? Do you still see a viable path forward for that legislation at this point? And are you looking at changes similar to what’s happening in South Carolina with their hate crimes legislation? they’ve removed sexual orientation and gender identity from their proposal? Is that something that you’re considering here as well,
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:11:28
First in reference to sb 301, which would require the state of Arkansas to refund fines that have been levied against businesses that have failed to comply with the public health guidelines. During this pandemic. I’ve indicated my opposition to that. I think it’s ill advised because it really violates the separation of powers, it gets into legislation, legislating over how the executive branch functions under the laws that have been provided by the legislative branch. It also impedes upon the separation of powers with the courts, because the courts have ruled on the authority of the state in regard to the enforcement of those guidelines. So I’m very troubled by that. But in terms of next step on that, I’m still looking at that, and I will make an announcement the next couple days as to how I will handle that bill now that is on my desk. In regards to what we have called hate crimes legislation. I have my full commitment is that we need to have legislation Arkansas, that discourage, discourages and penalizes those that target a particular group because of who they are. That’s that is not what we need in Arkansas. we need to have the right communication and message as to what kind of a state we are, where we understand and tolerate a diversity in our population. as to where this is right now. Everybody knows how difficult it is in this legislative session. But I know that there’s a number of members of the legislature that is working hard on getting a bill that will accomplish something, but it is also something that we can pass. So either they will comment on that as they work on it, or we’ll have more comments later. But that’s all I can tell you right now. With that next question.
Alex Burch – KATV 13:13:34
this is Alex with CHANNEL SEVEN from Channel five. The testing numbers have been on the lower end. And does it concern you that there are cases such as this out?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:13:49
Are you gonna have to rephrase that last little bit closer to the microphone, please?
Oh, sorry. Can you hear me?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:13:56
I can now.
Alex Burch – KATV 13:13:58
question is, do you know the reason why testing numbers have been on the lower end? And are you worried that there are cases out there that we’re not detecting?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:14:07
I think it’s a very, very good question. Dr. Romero, can you handle that?
Dr. Jose Romero 13:14:14
Thank you for that question. Part of the reason that testing goes forward is because there’s concern in the public. And so that symptom is symptomatic individuals seek to access the testing itself. So what this is telling us is that there’s less individuals in the community that are symptomatic at this moment. Do I think that there are a lot more cases, there probably are, but not not to the degree that we had in the past. So unless you’re doing active surveillance that is surveilling a group of individuals continuously, you don’t have that type of on the ground notification of the cases. I think that the number of testing that we’re doing at this point reflects the number of individuals that are sick or are concerned and we’re seeing that that in the number of hospitalizations that have been going down because that also is an indicator disease in the community. So we’re not seeing a dramatic increase in that it’s been pretty stable. We’re keeping an eye on that.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:15:13
sThis Jessica from Channel five in Memphis? Sorry, this is unlike. Right. If I’m talking over anybody, I apologize. So my question is about doses delivered versus doses administered. So if you look at the dashboards for Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, you’ll see that the number of doses delivered versus doses administered it, there’s a pretty big gap, about 62% of doses delivered have actually been administered. Why is that gap? Is it personnel? Is it hesitancy? What do you account for that all the doses being administered at this time?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:15:53
You mean 62% versus being 90%? Yes, well, the there’s a couple answers for it. One, many of those doses are second doses. And so they’re automatically sent. And they’re held until the appointment is made at the right time. And so there’s always going to be an inventory of second doses. And that will actually increase over time, because as more people get their first dose, you’re going to have a greater inventory a second dose. And so that’s a factor in it. And that’s probably the greatest factor in that being there. And then there’s, you always have, our goal is to get it out within 72 hours, once that doses, the first dose is received to get it in the arms of Arkansans within 72 hours. So you’ve got a throughput there, that you’re always going to have a small inventory, that’s going to be present because of that 72 hour throughput timeframe. So those are factors, you know, from all the states, they’re they’re all in that category, I think whenever you see them way up, that they might be at 80%, they might counted a little bit different or that utilization of mass clinics. And we could, we could have one mass clinic here in Little Rock, for example. And we could probably be at 85% level of vaccination, but it’s not going to be fair, because you’re then ignoring the populations around Arkansas, and we’re a rural state. And so the same thing would be true in Mississippi or Tennessee, we’re all wrestling with the same challenge of getting it out quickly and efficiently. But also balancing that with the need to get it to those people that might be in, you know, homebound down in a small town in Arkansas and a rural environment. They’re not a nursing home, but they’re, but they’re, but they’re homebound. And how do you get it out to them. And that takes a little bit slower process to do. We’re continuing to work on that to be efficient. But I think that explains a little bit of the background there. Thank you.
Just so I’m clear. So the first dose for people who have received their first dose, they are allocated a second dose. So that’s being held for them. And that’s part of that inventory.
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:18:18
They are allocated a second dose. But the second dose is separately shipped by the federal government, when at some point that it gets closer to when they’re going to receive that second shot. But it could come you know, a week early or five days early, and it has to be held to that particular timeframe. And one a good illustration is I talked to one hospital today. And I asked them what is the inventory that you have first doses and second doses. And I think it was about 1000 second doses that they were holding to the time of administration. And then they had I think it was another six or 700 doses that were first doses. And that’s what told me we’ve got to get that out quicker. But they’re still there demand their slots that were being requested had been reduced. And so that’s one of the reasons we’re moving to one see today. I hope that’s helpful. is one final question.
I got a question about Senate Bill 379. That was passed yesterday. This is the bill that would concern the legislator being able to step in when it comes to public health emergencies that you declare I spoke with Senator Kim hammer, he’s bill sponsor earlier and you mentioned that you were kind of cooperating with it. But I’d like to hearyour side of things and sort of what your Thank you. It’s
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:19:38
excellent question. I was hoping for it. And this is a revision of the emergency Powers Act. And Senator Hammer and Representative Gazaway, who were the lead sponsors did a very good job in working with my office on fine tuning the legislation on listening to each branch of governments concerns. And what we arrived at i think is a very fair balance between The flexibility that’s needed by the governor, and the appropriate role that the legislature has is a check and balance. And so the key is that, as I extend any emergency, during a pandemic, that the legislature through their legislative council can override that with a an affirmative vote, I’m okay with that. Because the burden to override is on on them, I don’t have to get approval, I do it, I take the action, and then they have an opportunity to review it. And they have to affirmatively terminate it, versus affirmatively approve it before it goes into effect. And that small difference is critical in terms of the flexibility that the governor has, and balancing that with their checks and balance. So I do intend to sign that legislation when it comes. It maintains my priority of flexibility during a pandemic to manage and I think it will preserve that for future governors as well.
Um, Governor, one more question. And this is Benji hardy with the Arkansas nonprofit news network. So the definitions of underlying medical conditions and the ones he category is quite broad. And it seems like it could apply to quite a few different people, depending on how it’s interpreted. Also, anecdotally, this over the weekend, there were several providers and large vaccination clinics around the state that didn’t seem to be checking eligibility, at least not very carefully. So my question is just whether vaccines are effectively open to pretty much anyone who wants one now? I mean, is, is anybody really excluded? Now that 1-C has been opened up?
Governor Asa Hutchinson 13:21:55
Thank you, Benji. And the answer is no. What is opened up is 1-A, 1-B and 1-C. That is what is open, and we expect our providers out there to follow that criteria. And we ask our citizens to honor that criteria that has been set by the Center for Disease Control that we have adopted here through our Department of Health. And so yes, it is on the honor system, and we expect people to do the right thing and regard to their neighbors and to the community. And and so I think there are clear guidelines and we asked for people to follow those. With that. Thank you for your attention today and for this important announcement. Thank you