Arkansas’ current public health emergency will end in just over one week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday the state of emergency brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago is set to end on May 30. Arkansas has been under the emergency declaration since March 11, 2020, the day the state saw its first resident test positive for COVID-19.
Speaking with reporters at the Capitol, Hutchinson said the move doesn’t preclude him from invoking emergency powers again if the state experiences another wave of coronavirus infections.
“If we don’t get the vaccinations out, if we have a [resurgence] of this COVID-19 in the fall and we have to have emergency measures in place, we can always re-institute the emergency if need be,” Hutchinson said. “But I’m hopeful that we won’t be there. And I’d like to think that we’re not going to have that surge if everybody in Arkansas does what is needed.”
The governor said the emergency can also end since rules surrounding telemedicine and business liability are now state law. Hutchinson says the state is spending $8.4 million on new ad campaigns encouraging Arkansans to take the coronavirus vaccine, including one targeting minority communities.
The governor also said all employees of Executive Branch state agencies who’ve gotten at least one vaccine are eligible for a $100 bonus.
“Our state workers, in many instances, are providing an environment for the public to come in and do business. And we want the public to know that the workplace, we’re doing everything we can to make it safe and to have the employees that are vaccinated,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson says the bonuses will cost the state about $3.6 million if 70% of the 25,772 eligible state employees get vaccinated. He says the cost will be absorbed by state agencies at first, and hopefully reimbursed later with funds from the federal relief package known as the American Rescue Plan.
The governor says he’s considering offering vaccination incentives to members of the general public as has been seen in other states.