Arkansas Sets Another Record For COVID deaths; Governor Critical Of Vaccine Pace

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (at the podium) speaks with reporters during Tuesday's COVID-19 press briefing.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

With hospitalizations and deaths continuing to set new daily records, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he is “not satisfied with the pace” of vaccinations in the state. He also warned that the state’s hospitals will be further stressed with infections from Christmas and New Year gatherings.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported Tuesday (Dec. 29) that total confirmed and probable deaths rose by 66 to 3,603. The daily rise set another record. Tuesday’s report also showed total known confirmed and probable cases rose by 2,718 to 216,528, and active confirmed and probable cases rose by 350 to 21,181. The ADH also reported 55 statewide available ICU beds, down from 56 on Monday.

Hospitalizations also set a new daily record of 1,161, rising by 6 from Monday. Tuesday’s report was also the first time an Arkansas county posted more than 400 new cases in one day, with Pulaski County having 424.

SLOW VACCINE PACE

During his Tuesday weekly COVID-19 press conference, Gov. Hutchinson said 48.2% of the Pfizer vaccine received has been administered. The Pfizer vaccine is targeted primarily to healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents. The governor said the pace of distribution is too slow, especially with many COVID deaths occurring among nursing home residents.

“I am asking our large retail pharmacies, and all of our pharmacies, to really understand what’s at stake here, to help us get this vaccine administered as quickly as possible because lives are at stake,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

Rachel Bunch, executive director of Arkansas Health Care Association, said delays among the more than 300 nursing home locations some are caused by consent requirements, staff training and the fact that some doses were delivered before a day or two before the Christmas break when staffing levels were low. Bunch said efforts are underway to ensure that all facilities will have had access to the vaccines by Jan. 16.

Gov. Hutchinson said his “expectation” is that by the end of January all health care workers and all long-term nursing home residents and staff will have been vaccinated and vaccinations are beginning with other priority groups. More vaccinations will be needed to help push back against expected increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Hutchinson said, adding that cases rose by one-third and hospitalizations rose 10% after the Thanksgiving break. Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero also said cases and death counts will rise, and if too many Arkansans don’t follow health guidelines “we are in danger of overwhelming our hospital system.”

The governor also extended the public health emergency – set to expire Dec. 30 – another 60 days.

COVID REPORT – Dec. 29
New known COVID-19 cases, active cases, tests

  • 182,627 known cumulative PCR cases, with 1,409 new community cases and 40 reported cases in correctional facilities
  • 36,619 probable cases, up from 35,350 on Monday
  • There are 15,158 active cases, down from 15,363 on Monday
  • There were 5,307 test results provided in the previous 24 hours
  • There were 6,457 antigen tests in the previous 24 hours.

Deaths:

3,042, up 37
561 probable COVID-related deaths, up 29

Hospitalizations: 1,161, up 6

Ventilators: 198, down 3

Recovered cases: 164,404

The top six counties with new known cases reported Tuesday were: Pulaski (424), Benton (214), Garland (149), Washington (145), Faulkner (110), and White (110). The counties accounted for 42.4% of the 2,718 new confirmed and probable cases.

As of Tuesday at 1 p.m., there were 19,410,043 U.S. cases and 336,325 deaths. Globally, there were 81,681,986 cases and 1,781,713 deaths.