Arkansas' governor announced a challenge Tuesday to raise the state's COVID-19 vaccinated population in the next 90 days.
The goal, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson outlined during his weekly press briefing on the pandemic, is to have at least 50% of Arkansans vaccinated with at least one dose. Meeting that threshold would mean vaccinating 467,206 additional Arkansans, he said.
"Obviously we want to get it higher than that, and if you look at the adult population it will be, and we want to get them fully vaccinated, but it starts with this simple, foundational goal," Hutchinson said. "It’s going to take a lot of work from all Arkansans in the communities to get 467,000 more Arkansans vaccinated."
The governor said each Arkansas county will receive information on how many more vaccines they will need to distribute to reach 50% in their respective county.
According to the state, 10,982 total doses of COVID-19 vaccines were distributed in the previous 24 hours. Numbers from the Department of Health show the state added 296 new cases of the coronavirus. The number of active cases in Arkansas Tuesday was at 2,043, which was an increase of 104 from Monday.
The state also reported five more COVID-19 deaths, with the overall death toll at 5,752. The number of Arkansans hospitalized was 192, an increase of 20 compared to Monday.
In addition to the new goal, state officials announced a series of pop-up clinics where vaccines would be available without an appointment. Those locations include: the Central Mall Food Court in Fort Smith, as well as a series of high school graduations taking place at War Memorial Stadium over the next month.
When asked about the reluctance of some Arkansans to get a vaccine, Hutchinson said while some of the state’s unvaccinated population will remain that way because of skepticism, he believes convenience is another factor.
"It’s a, 'Well, I’ll get it tomorrow,' or 'I’ll get it down the road,' or 'I think it’s not getting – the cases aren’t going up again and so I don’t know anybody who’s sick so I’m just going to put it off.' And that’s what we have to overcome too. It’s a different kind of resistance and it’s just as important for us to win those over too and understand the urgency of it," Hutchinson said.
Addressing the current pandemic situation in India, which has recently seen a drastic increase of both COVID-19 cases and deaths over the past month, the state is requesting those traveling back from India to self-quarantine for two weeks to ensure the Indian variant doesn't spread in Arkansas.
Speaking on the variants that have been detected in the state, Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said there has been an increase.
"We had a significant jump in the number of the UK variant, the B117 that has been found. They now make up nearly 75% of the variants that we are seeing here," Romero said. "As I’ve said before, this variant is highly transmissible and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality."
Romero said Arkansas is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in children, and because children cannot yet receive the vaccine, he stressed the importance of adults and adolescents getting vaccinated to create a "cocoon" and greater protect children against the virus.
Hutchinson also announced he would be shifting the focus of his weekly press briefings to topics other than the pandemic, unless otherwise warranted.
"I want [ to] continue with my media briefings, but it will be more broad than simply the COVID update," Hutchinson said. "I think that’s a reflection of how we’ve got a lot going on in Arkansas and there’s a lot of other things that I need to talk about."