The Saline Courier

Hutchinson encourages vaccinatio­ns, especially among minorities

- By Elisha Morrison elisham@bentoncour­ier.com

Gov. Asa Hutchinson used his weekly briefing on Tuesday to encourage more vaccinatio­ns, especially among minorities.

“I want to emphasize today the importance of getting the vaccine out to minority communitie­s,” Hutchinson said.

He started by discussing the day’s case report, which showed 71 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for a cumulative confirmed total of 259,929. Confirmed active cases fell by 45 to 1,097.

Probable cases rose by 92 to 71,332 with 505 active.

Confirmed deaths increased by four to 4,505 and probable deaths went up by one to 1,148.

There were seven new hospitaliz­ations bringing the current number of hospitaliz­ed to 152 with 26 on ventilator­s.

The state received results for 1,844 PCR tests and 1,276 antigen tests.

Saline County has had 11,744 cumulative cases — 8,711 confirmed and 3,033 probable. Active cases are at 46 — 25 confirmed and 21 probable. There have been 11,529 recoveries — 8,544 confirmed and 2,985 probable. The county has had 166 deaths — 140 confirmed and 26 probable.

Nationally, there have been 30,841,045 cases with 556,428 deaths.

While cases are lower, Hutchinson said Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero told him there is still community spread.

“You don’t want to catch COVID-19 when the vaccine is available to you,” Hutchinson said.

The state has received 1,881,900 doses of vaccine and given 1,276,675 or 67.8 percent. There are 357,280 partially vaccinated and 477,857 fully vacci

nated in the state.

Hutchinson showed a slide comparing those who have been vaccinated by race. Those who are white have received 77.5 percent of the vaccines and make up 81.4 percent of the population. Those who are black have received 10.3 percent of vaccines and make up 15.3 percent of the population. Hutchinson said the other numbers are close to their percent of the population.

He also reported of those over the age of 65, 19.2 percent are partially vaccinated and 45.3 percent are fully vaccinated.

Hutchinson urged those who need help getting the vaccine to call the hotline at 1-800-985-6030.

“As vaccinatio­n distributi­on continues, ensuring racial equity is important

for mitigating disproport­ionate impacts on people of color, preventing widening health disparitie­s and achieving broad population immunity,” said Dr. Michelle Smith, director of the Office of Health Equity at the Arkansas Department of Health.

In January, her office developed health equity strike teams to assist ensuring special population­s have equal access to vaccines, including minorities, those with disabiliti­es, faith-based organizati­ons, rural communitie­s and the elderly.

Teams go to counties with low vaccinatio­n rates.

The teams include nurses, health educators, public informatio­n specialist­s and others in the community.

They also use 80 to 100 volunteers to staff clinics.

As a result, since January more than 12,000 first and second doses have been administer­ed in Jefferson, Pulaski, Desha, St. Francis, Crittenden and Sebastian counties.

Additional teams are going to communitie­s. The goal is to administer 8,000 more vaccines in April with 50 percent or greater being among minority groups.

They are partnering with the Arkansas Pharmacist Associatio­n, Black Mayors Associatio­n, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Baptist Health and NYIT Jonesboro. They are also collaborat­ing with black fraterniti­es and sororities.

Anyone wishing to volunteer at clinics can call 501661-2622.

For a list of clinics visit the ADH website.

Romero emphasized the need for everyone who gets a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccinatio­n to get the second shot, even if they miss the second shot window.

He then delivered a message in Spanish to Latinx population­s in the state.

Hutchinson said currently vaccines are limited to those age 16 and older. He encouraged schools to allow students to get vaccinated on campus.

Secretary of Education Dr. Johnny Key said the Arkansas Department of Education will work with ADH, medical profession­als and schools for clinics.

Hutchinson hoped it would help prepare schools for the possibilit­y of students being eligible for the vaccine, age 12 and up, in the fall.

While Hutchinson believes private businesses should have the option to require all employees to be vaccinate, like they can require drug tests, he is not in favor of vaccine passports. He thinks they should not be a condition of travel. He added if he was to go on a cruise, he would want it to be one where everyone was vaccinated.

He was asked about the Arkansas General Assembly’s override of his veto of HB 1520, relating to medical procedures for transgende­r minorities. He said he expected it to be overridden when he vetoed it.

Romero said the state has several variants of the COVID-19 virus, many are more transmitta­ble and lethal.

Key does not believe Aspire testing for schools will be affected by lifting the mask mandate. Districts will be able to offer alternativ­e sites and weekend options for those uncomforta­ble with being on campus.

While there is no penalty for students who do not take the test, schools need 95 percent participat­ion.

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