Governor Hutchinson insisted today the state is doing better than it appears on administering vaccines, but he announced a plan to bring in military help to step up the pace and also announced that vaccines would be available sooner than expected in a second priority tier.

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He said the state will move up vaccinations for two categories of people in 1B beginning Monday, Jan. 18. Vaccine can be given beginning then to people aged 70 and over and K-12 school staff. These will be distributed by community pharmacies and hospitals. He said there may be special clinics in various areas. School districts may schedule clinics, for example.

This group is potentially roughly 400,000 people, so obviously many clamoring for shots will still have to wait. The governor insisted during questioning that some vaccine will be available for people newly eligible because several health facilities have served all those in the top category who were willing to be vaccinated.

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State officials hope the number of pharmacies participating will be increased and there will be a greater availability in county health units.

No prospective dates were offered for these two succeeding categories.

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Here’s the daily COVID-19 report. The governor continues to emphasize the increase is down from a week ago, but he acknowledged the hospital and death rates are high.

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ROB ATOR: Vaccine czar.

The governor didn’t mention efforts at the national level to improve vaccination distribution, reported earlier by the Washington Post, except to say that the state wasn’t ready yet to abandon staging distribution in a way to be sure doses are available for a second shot. At the federal level, the reported change in plan is to get as many first shots out as possible even if it delays a second shot for some people.

Hutchinson said the state was devising a distribution plan to be completed by Jan. 15 through the National Guard and he’s named a director of the program, retired Col. Rob Ator. He is military affairs director at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Plans include “strike teams” to provide mass clinics as requested. The governor said an ongoing mass clinic, such as at War Memorial Stadium, wouldn’t make sense when the supply wasn’t sufficient to serve it. A greater supply could change that.

As yet there’s no plan for a centralized way to sign up to obtain vaccines, but there will be a central plan to distribute doses to providers. People must go to pharmacies, hospitals and clinics that are receiving the vaccine. Information on pharmacies here.

Editorial comment: Why did it take this long to decide the state needed a unified statewide plan with a single person in charge?

The governor was asked a question related to this point by AP’s Andrew DeMillo, who asked about reports on the state’s low ranking in getting vaccine out. The governor said the New York Times’ recent report on the low vaccination rate was inaccurate. Health Director Jose Romero also said the state’s numbers were different (better) than the CDC numbers used in the report. He said almost 3 percent of the state’s population has been vaccinated as of today, better than the 1.4 percent reported over the weekend. He didn’t address the figure that showed Arkansas worse than all but one state in the percentage of use of the available vaccine.

The governor did acknowledge under questioning that he wasn’t happy with the response in the top priority category — health care workers, nursing homes and first responders. It’s estimated to cover 180,000 people and the effort will clearly fall far short of that. He said it’s been a “logistics challenge” and that’s why experts have now been called in. A problem also is the high number of health care workers refusing to take the vaccine.

Other questions

SECURITY: He said he was aware of reports of potential threats against state capitols. He said plans were in place for the opening of the legislature and for days leading up to the inauguration. He said people would be protected. If civilian law enforcement isn’t sufficient, the National Guard would be supporting. At this point, he said he has no indication civilian law enforcement can’t handle the situation. “We’ll continue to evaluate that.”

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He said Arkansas was a less likely target. He said he had more confidence in the state’s citizens. Sure. They support Trump as do the dominant Republican elected officials.

Hutchinson wasn’t asked — and I haven’t received a response from his office to my question — about the State Police’s confirmation that two state troopers were present at the march that led to last week’s riot in Washington. Nor has the State Police responded to my request for further information about those troopers’ activities that day, including an FOI request on what troopers were on leave that day. The agency so far has refused to identify them, saying their activities on leave were not the agency’s business. I’ve argued that reports about credentialed law officers waving passes inside the Capitol require that the state determine if its employees behaved lawfully and also reported any unlawful behavior they observed.

HEALTH CARE: He was asked about a plan for crisis standard of care, which more than 30 states have adopted. Romero said he hoped Arkansas would never have to implement such a plan because it would signal a medical disaster, but he said it was near completion.

HATE CRIME: He thought his call for it to the legislature was “well-received” and they are “thoughtfully considering it.”

The full hospital report today:

Current hospitalizations: 1,354

Total Beds: 8,925

Total Beds Available: 1,942

Total ICU Beds: 1,156

Total ICU Beds Available: 52

Total Vents: 1,103

Total Vents Available: 616

Total Covid patients in ICU: 451

Total Covid patients on vents: 246