The news is a bounce upward in news cases, plus 40 more deaths, and hope for good vaccination news later today from the Biden administration. Governor Hutchinson also said the rolling average of positive COVID tests was trending downward, though still dangerously high above 10 percent.

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The governor claimed progress on vaccine distribution. He now says he likes the New York Times’ compilation, given that it shows Arkansas 10th in the percentage of people who’ve received vaccinations. (He had questioned their earlier reporting.) He said 92 percent of the vaccine received last week was distributed within 48 hours. He said the state has a second-dose allocation and thus people should have confidence who’ve received one shot that they’ll get the second.

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But he said the state remains constrained by supply. The state has received consistent allocations, but they haven’t been increasing. He said the head of the Biden task force said he was hopeful good news would be coming soon. He said the Biden team would be talking with governors about this later today. By one report, allocations are going to increase by 17 percent next week.

Hutchinson said the state still doesn’t have the supply sufficient to have mass vaccination clinics. He said the state is balancing interests for equity, so that, for example, rural areas have access equal to urban areas where mass distribution is easier.

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The governor said the nursing home vaccine program through CVS and Walgreen should be completed this week and a vast amount of unused vaccine is to be shifted to older people and school workers.

The Health Department’s Dr. Jennifer Dillaha appeared to say the vaccines were “safe and they work.” They are particularly useful in reducing the severity of disease when it is contracted despite the vaccines (which have 95 percent effectiveness).

She also emphasized that fully vaccinated people should continue to follow health guidelines on masks, distancing and hand washing.

Q&A

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The governor was asked about the extended delay in pandemic unemployment assistance, pushed until mid-February because the Arkansas computer system can’t process it. Hutchinson acknowledged the program. He said he knew it was a
“work in progress.” Hundreds of unhappy people in need of the money are tired of bland assurances judging by comments on our website, emails and phone calls. They say most other states are getting money in people’s hands. They say they face deadlines for such things as franchise fee payments and they don’t have the money to pay it. I’ve repeatedly asked for an explanation from the Commerce Department and gotten little.

He was pressed again on the failure of people who filed in December to be able to get help until mid-February.

What do you tell people who have no money for food and rent, he was asked. Hutchinson said people can call community action agencies for help. “We understand there are some real compassionate needs.” He said the agencies were working hard to update the payment system.