Although Arkansas reported a lower number of new COVID-19 cases, as well as a large decrease in active cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson credits that drop to less testing due to the current winter weather.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, the state saw an increase of 177 new cases, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 313,525. Of those cases, 9,104 are considered active, which is a decrease of 1,390.
Additionally, the state saw 12 more deaths due to COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 5,287.
However, Arkansas reported only 1,490 PCR tests in the previous 24 hours, as well as 742 antigen tests.
Speaking Tuesday during his weekly update on the pandemic, Hutchinson called the new COVID-19 numbers, "not very significant" considering the lower testing rate. However, he said the rate of hospitalizations, which decreased by four to a total of 638, is a better indication of how Arkansas is doing in terms of the pandemic.
"One statistic that you can continue to measure that is more constant, that is not as dependent upon the weather," Hutchinson said, "is the hospitalizations because this reflects people who are ill and need hospital care."
Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said though the state has done well lately in terms of the current hospital bed reserve, he expressed concern about the COVID-19 variants that have been documented elsewhere in the country.
"We have not found one here in Arkansas, but we assume that they are present. That means that our physical mitigations need to continue," Romero said.
Hutchinson also announced an increase in the maximum capacity for indoor events which will allow gatherings of up to 100 people without the need for a submitted and approved plan by the Department of Health.
The state also loosened its restrictions on school and community sports, allowing competitions with two or more teams, though plans must still be submitted and approved by the Department of Health.
Even with the winter weather, the state distributed 3,342 COVID-19 vaccination doses on Monday, with another 121 distributed by federal programs. A total of 481,511 doses have been administered statewide.
Hutchinson spent the first part of his meeting discussing the current winter weather, an event that he called "the most severe weather event in my lifetime."
Due to the weather emergency, Hutchinson extended the current deployment of the Arkansas National Guard through Friday.
Additionally, Hutchinson said roughly 18,000 to 20,000 Arkansans are still without power due to the winter storm, saying Montgomery County, Garland County and Little River County are among the hardest hit by power outages.
According to Hutchinson, Southwest Power Pool, which controls the power supply in part of the state, instituted controlled interruptions of service this morning at 7 a.m., though Hutchinson said all power had been restored by 10:15 a.m.
The governor also talked about a current shortage of natural gas in the state, saying it has impacted both residential customers and at the industrial level. However, Hutchinson said as temperatures rise, the shortage should improve.