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As COVID cases rise, Gov. Hutchinson urges Arkansans to get booster shots

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Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero and Education Secretary Johnny Key enter Tuesday's press conference at the state Capitol.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday used his weekly press briefing to encourage Arkansans to get their vaccine booster shot as soon as possible. The push comes as the delta variant continues to push cases higher in the state.

Active cases were up 249 to 7,414, much higher than the 5,699 active cases the previous Tuesday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. New cases rose by 932 to a cumulative total of 534,590, and deaths rose by 24 to a cumulative of 8,776. One good number, the governor said, was that the seven-day rolling average of positive tests is 8.8%, down from 9.1% the previous Tuesday.

Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said only 34.4% of those 65 and older have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. Romero said the older age group is at most risk from COVID infection, even if vaccinated.

“They are the ones breaking through (with infection) in higher numbers,” Romero said of the 65-and-older demographic. He also said no cases of the omicron variant had been detected.

The ADH data also showed that 16.1% of those 55-64 and 10.2% of those 45-54 have received their booster shot. Hutchinson said all Arkansans should “pay attention to when you should get your booster shot.” The ADH has info on booster eligibility on this page of its website.

The ADH also reported Tuesday only 62 ICU beds available among the 1,132 in the state, down from 76 on Monday. The data also shows that 85.6% of deaths from COVID are among those unvaccinated. The state also reports that 1,460,971 Arkansans are fully immunized and 333,328 are partially immunized against COVID.

Despite the recent rise in COVID cases, Hutchinson said he is optimistic the state will not see a rise in cases similar to that in the previous winter. That surge saw a record with new daily cases of 4,304 on Jan. 1, 2021, a one-day record of 66 reported deaths on Dec. 29, 2020, and a record 1,371 hospitalizations on Jan. 11, 2021.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that with the vaccination rate, I have some level of confidence we’re going to be able to keep the hospitalizations down and we’re going to be much lower in terms of where we are going to be in these winter months. But we will see and it’s based on everyone’s behavior,” Hutchinson said.