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Arkansas Health Officials Discuss New COVID Variant, Plan To Redirect Some Vaccines

Gov. Asa Hutchinson shows a graph during Tuesday's press conference indicating a downward trend Arkansas has seen in recent days.
Governor's Office

On a day U.S. COVID-19 deaths topped 400,000, new confirmed and probable cases in Arkansas continued a downward trend with 1,331 cases reported Tuesday, well below the 3,209 reported the previous Tuesday.

The Arkansas Department of Health also reported that confirmed and active cases fell by 1,854 to 20,940. Unfortunately, deaths rose by 43 to 4,386. The ADH also reported 50 available ICU beds as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, down from 57 on Monday.

The state has received 293,600 vaccines since federal distribution began Dec. 14, including 18,600 delivered within the past 24 hours. Vaccines administered rose by 13,647 to 147,609, or 50.3% of vaccines received.

However, the vaccination pace is not going well with a federal program in which CVS and Walgreens are managing vaccinations in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. That program has received 80,700 vaccines since Dec. 28, including 31,300 delivered in the past 24 hours. Vaccines administered rose by just 29 to 6,626, or 8.2% of vaccines received.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his Tuesday COVID-19 briefing he has been assured plans are in place to expedite the process and deliver the vaccines to nursing home residents and staff by the end of January. He also said vaccines allocated to Arkansas for the federal program are more than what is needed, and state officials are working to reclaim the extra vaccines for use in the state’s vaccination plan. He did not say how many vaccines might be reclaimed.


Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said the state is “actively” testing for the COVID-19 variant that he said is 50-70 times more transmissible than the original. The virus has been detected in 10 states, he said, and the state has sent eight “suspicious” specimens to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see if the variant is in Arkansas.

The variant is likely to be in the state soon, with Romero predicting the more transmissible variant being the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. by March. He said existing vaccines are good against the variant, but warned that a more transmissible virus could result in another spike if Arkansans aren’t careful with masking, social distancing and other safety measures.

“We know that these viruses will continue to rise. I think that in the future one of our big concerns is that this could lead to another spike in the number of cases because of the transmissibility. It also impacts our vaccine program, because in order to really bring the virus under control, we’re going to have to have larger numbers of individuals vaccinated,” Romero said.

Secretary of Education Johnny Key also announced the Arkansas Department of Education has partnered with the Arkansas Department of Human Services to deliver “wrap-around services” to students in need. A new web portal is designed to provide support in more than 50 different categories, including food security, clothes closets, and mental health support to students and families. He said the list will continue to grow as community groups around the state join the portal.

“In many cases, the challenges that they face become a barrier to academic success,” Key said, adding that “we know that this will be critical, not just in this time of COVID, but even afterward to help our students and their families get the types of support that they need.”

Key also said the department is requesting $4.6 million from new federal COVID relief money to cover outstanding claims by teachers for COVID emergency leave prior to Dec. 31.

New known COVID-19 cases, active cases, tests:

  • 220,797 known cumulative PCR cases, with 983 new community cases and 5 reported cases in correctional facilities
  • 52,797 probable cases, up from 52,307 on Monday
  • There are 15,281 active cases, down from 16,747 on Monday
  • There were 6,074 test results provided in the previous 24 hours
  • There were 2,281 antigen tests in the previous 24 hours

3,621, up 36
765 probable COVID-related deaths, up 7

Hospitalizations: 1,265, up 2
Ventilators: 209, down 7
Recovered cases: 201,869

The top five counties with new known cases reported Tuesday were: Pulaski (268), Benton (132), Washington (118), Faulkner (85), and Sebastian (70). The counties accounted for 50.5% of the 1,331 new confirmed and probable cases.

As of Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., there were 24,163,707 U.S. cases and 400,022 deaths. Globally, there were 95,914,178 cases and 2,049,813 deaths.

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