Hutchinson extends public health emergency 60 days

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Tuesday at a press briefing in Little Rock in this image taken from video posted on YouTube.  (YouTube via Texarkana Gazette)
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Tuesday at a press briefing in Little Rock in this image taken from video posted on YouTube. (YouTube via Texarkana Gazette)

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that he has extended the COVID-19 public health emergency by 60 days during his weekly press briefing.

This decision, made in consultation with state Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero, comes after reports of a record-breaking day of COVID deaths.

Arkansas recorded an additional 66 deaths on Tuesday, which Hutchinson said is the most recorded in a 24-hour period since the onset of the pandemic in March. The state death total is now at 3,603.

"There is not any good news at all in this report today," he said.

There were 2,718 new cases, including confirmed and probable ones, bringing that total to 219,246. Active cases increased by 350 to a total of 21,181.

Hospitalizations increased by six to a total of 1,161.

The counties reporting the most new cases include Pulaski with 424, Benton with 214, Garland with 149, Washington with 145, Faulkner with 110 and White with 110.

Hutchinson also provided updates on vaccinations in the state, saying he is hopeful they can turn the bleak statistics around once these are administered.

"That is the hope that we all have, that our vaccine is going to turn the tide on this, and we're anxious to have the vaccines not only received in Arkansas but administered," he said.

Of the Pfizer dosages that have been allocated to health care workers, the governor said 48% have been administered.

"Our hospitals have worked very hard to get the vaccine, even through the holidays, administered," he said. "Our health care workers are responding very well. It's picked up the morale of those working in that environment."

Hutchinson reported that the state has received 31,700 Moderna vaccine dosages, which are administered by pharmacies to long-term care residents. But only 1,680, around 5.3%, had been administered as of Tuesday morning.

"I expect that pace to pick up considerably in the coming days, but I am not satisfied with the pace of the vaccination, particularly in our long-term care facilities," he said.

"I am asking our large retail pharmacies and all of our pharmacies to really understand what's at stake here to help us to get this vaccine administered as quickly as possible because lives are at stake."