Little Rock, AR (STL.News) Governor Asa Hutchinson will hold a series of Community Covid Conversations to hear first-hand the concerns of Arkansans about COVID-19 and the vaccinations, the Governor announced today at his weekly news conference. The first meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday in Cabot.
The Governor set a goal of vaccinating 50 percent of Arkansans by the end of July. As of today, 39 percent of Arkansans have taken the shot. The Governor will answer questions in the hope of encouraging more Arkansans to receive the vaccine.
“It starts with a conversation with communities,” he said. “It does come down to individual responsibility. I’m the leader of this state. I want to do all I can. It would be easier for me to sit back and say, ‘I’m weary of this COVID conversation.’ I’m sure everybody in this room is. But that’s not leadership. Leadership is saying, ‘Let’s plow on…. let’s get through this. Let’s see if we can do a little bit better.’”
The Governor noted that more than 50 percent of the population of Bradley County is fully vaccinated. One million Arkansans have been fully vaccinated, but that’s not enough to stop the spread.
“We are losing ground in July,” Governor Hutchinson said, in large part because of the Delta variant, which is more contagious than COVID-19 and the symptoms are more severe. The vaccine is effective against all of the COVID variants.
On Tuesday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 270 new cases and six additional deaths. The increase of hospitalizations to 55 is the largest increase since January.
As the vaccine has become widely available, younger people have been the most hesitant to get it. In November 2020, the average age of those hospitalized with COVID-19 was 64. As people that age and older are taking the vaccine, the average age of those hospitalized has declined to 54. The average age of those who have died from COVID has decreased from 78 to 66.
The Governor encouraged employers to provide paid time off for employees to get the vaccination and for those who may need time off to recover from a reaction to the vaccine.
“I am asking employers in our state to take a leadership role in encouraging vaccinations in the workplace. Let me emphasize, employers were the first ones to push us. ‘We need the vaccine.’ They’ve done an incredible job of leading and getting their workplace vaccinated early on during the pandemic. We need them to come back and to reemphasize the need for vaccinations in the workplace.”
The American Rescue Plan provides a one-hundred-percent tax credit for the cost of paid time off for a business with fewer than 500 employees, said Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas. “This is a new deal,” Mr. Zook said. “It’s very simple to do … a little bit of paperwork.”