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COVID-19 continues to rage through Arkansas, a state which has among the lowest vaccination rates in the United States, as new day-over-day cases topped 2,000 for the first time since February.
State health officials reported 2,015 new cases Saturday as the highly contagious Delta variant swept across the state, prompting the state to resume weekend daily updates.
Four more COVID-19 cases required hospitalization, and seven more deaths were reported.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (seen right being interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday) has defended his decision to ban mask mandates in his state even as it reports some of the highest incidences of COVID-19 infections in the country
Hutchinson said that the state’s high COVID-19 infection rate in recent weeks is due to the low vaccination rate. Just 36 percent of Arkansans are fully vaccinated – making it among the lowest rates of vaccination in the country
Hutchinson told CNN on Sunday that he signed into the law the ban on mask mandates because the emphasis at the time was to get vaccinated.
‘Well, that was the will of the General Assembly. I signed it,’ the Republican governor said on Sunday.
‘At that point we had very low case rates in Arkansas and people knew exactly what to do.
‘They were capable of making their decisions.’
In late March, Arkansas lawmakers approved SB 590, a bill that prohibited the state from reimposing a mask mandate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The proposal does grant exceptions to private businesses, health care facilities, and correctional facilities who, if they so choose, could mandate mask-wearing.
The measure, which is set to go into effect this week, was passed just a day after Hutchinson lifted the requirement.
The Senate voted 20-9 in favor of the measure prohibiting mandatory face coverings, sending the measure to the House, where it was passed with ease by the Republican-dominated majority.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 374,000 Arkansans have been infected with coronavirus. More than 6,000 have died
COVID-19 continues to rage through Arkansas, a state which has among the lowest vaccination rates in the United States, as new day-over-day cases topped 2,000 for the first time since February
Arkansas has among the lowest rates of vaccination in the country, according to the latest data
Hutchinson told CNN on Sunday that at the time the law was approved the case count in Arkansas was low and that the state ‘shifted to the emphasis on vaccination.’
The governor added that the state public health guidelines ‘continue to say if you’re not vaccinated, you should wear a mask.’
‘That is the guideline that we have in place but we don’t have a mandate because that was held back from the legislature,’ Hutchinson said.
The governor said that the state’s rising COVID-19 case count is due to the fact that just 36 percent of Arkansans have been vaccinated.
Hutchinson told CNN that he would not consider imposing a vaccine mandate, saying such a move would ‘even cause a greater reaction of negatively toward the government, and then imposition of freedom.’
The governor did add that he could revisit the issue of mask mandates if the infection rate remains high and the vaccination rate remains low as the upcoming school year approaches.
The state averaged 626 new cases a day per 100,000 population over the past two weeks, an increase of 140.7 percent and a rate that topped the nation’s states, according to Johns Hopkins University research data.
Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running to replace Hutchinson as governor in 2022, wrote an op-ed on Sunday explaining why she decided to get vaccinated
Although the Arkansas vaccination rate has been among the nation’s lowest, State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that 32,466 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered last week, the most since late April.
‘I do feel that people are now sensing an increased sense of urgency compared to where we were a month ago,’ Dillaha said.
‘So many people who delayed vaccination have taken the step to get vaccinated, which gives me a lot of hope for shortening the duration of this surge.’
As of Saturday, the COVID-19 pandemic had caused 374,328 cases in Arkansas, killing 6,048 people.
Of those total cases, 15,032 were active Saturday, according to state health officials. Meanwhile, 36 percent of the state population had completed their vaccinations, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hutchinson will step down from the governorship in 2023 due to term limits.
One candidate who is running to replace him, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, wrote an op-ed in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in which she explained why she chose to get vaccinated.
Sanders, who is mindful of the unpopularity of the vaccine among Arkansas voters, struck a cautious tone, saying the choice to get inoculated was a ‘deeply personal’ one.
‘I have many friends who have expressed sincere concerns about being vaccinated, and it isn’t my place to tell them what to do,’ the GOP gubernatorial hopeful wrote.
But she hoped that by crediting her former boss, ex-President Donald Trump, she could persuade a skeptical portion of the public to get vaccinated.
‘It’s clear that the Trump vaccine works and is saving lives,’ Sanders wrote.
Sanders criticized President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for sowing doubts in the minds of Americans about the vaccine when it was under development during the Trump presidency.
‘If President Biden, Vice President Harris, and others on the left truly care about increasing the vaccination rate and saving lives, they should admit they were wrong to cast doubt on Operation Warp Speed and give President Trump and his team the credit they are due for the development of a safe and effective vaccine in record time,’ Sanders wrote.
Earlier this week, Sanders pledged that if she is elected governor, she would not impose mask or vaccine mandates.
Arkansas is one of scores of states who have seen a worrying rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that the country is in an ‘unnecessary predicament’ of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent Delta variant.
‘We’re going in the wrong direction,’ said Fauci, describing himself as ‘very frustrated.’
He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is ‘under active consideration’ by the government’s leading public health officials.
Also, booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Fauci said.
Fauci, who also serves as Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s State of the Union that he has taken part in conversations about altering the mask guidelines.
He noted that some local jurisdictions where infection rates are surging, such as Los Angeles County, are already calling on individuals to wear masks in public regardless of vaccination status.
Fauci said those local rules are compatible with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks in public.
Nearly 163 million people, or 49 percent of the eligible US population, are vaccinated, according to CDC data.
As of Saturday, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases was nearly 50,000, a 166 percent increase from two weeks ago, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of Johns Hopkins data.
Meanwhile vaccination rates are plateauing, with just 57 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated.
Source: Daily Mail