The governor’s briefing today began with an emphasis on the single positive number in the daily COVID-19 report: 30,000 vaccinations in the last day, with 25,000 of those being first doses. It was an enormous increase, as a one-month chart showed.

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Governor Hutchinson said that was a sign people were getting the message. He called it a “sea change” in attitude.

 

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The governor also displayed numbers sought at town hall meetings on the percentage of cases, hospitalizations and deaths for people who have been vaccinated.

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The governor said he was grateful that the legislature had agreed there was a public health emergency this morning. He pitched it as a partnership, rather than what the new law was — a usurpation of executive power.

He outlined the special session call and defended his request to end federal unemployment benefits earlier by saying 160,000 have gone back to work since he curtailed the payments at the end of June. But there’s been no analysis that those decisions were related to loss of the benefits. A judge has said the legislature must approve opt-outs of optional federal programs and that the governor alone couldn’t unilaterally decide this. Thus, the request for legislation to cut off up to $300 million in federal dollars that benefit 69,000 people and pour into the economy.

He defended the call for a change to the mask mandate ban to give local school districts the option. He emphasized that he wasn’t asking for a mask mandate.

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He talked also about the pressure on hospitals, showing an increase in serious COVID cases as a percentage of hospitalizations compared with the height of the pandemic in January.

Health Director Jose Romero talked of some “sobering” facts, including that 19 percent of those sick with COVID are children younger than 18 and more than half are younger than 12 and ineligible for vaccinations. He said a group of people are susceptible to illness because they can’t be vaccinated and the percentage of vaccinations among those younger than 18 is low.

Education Secretary Johnny Key insisted that the state plan for schools was sound, including preparations for digital instructions when required. He said the state would support districts attempting to increase vaccinations among students and staff who want it. (The “want” is the problem in Arkansas.)

Q&A

Governor’s outlook for getting two-thirds legislative approval, necessary for an immediate law change and how specifically the law would be change: The specific change is subject to the will of the legislature, he said. He said it was clear many legislators “just don’t want this in their laps and it’s clear to me some school superintendents don’t want it either, but this is a call that has to be made.” He didn’t even rule out, however, that no legislator would introduce a bill.

Why did he sign Act 1002, the masking ban?: He knew he’d be overridden if he vetoed it and the situation was improving then. In hindsight, he said he wished it hadn’t become law. He commented that a pending lawsuit challenging the mask mandate ban could create more problems than the legislature he proposed by freeing cities and counties from bans on mask mandates. he defended limiting his fix only to younger children because higher education, county jails and others prohibited from mask mandates have vaccinations as an alternative, while children younger than 12 do not.

Rental assistance: He says federal money is available, but it has been under-utilized.

Were the legislative limits on his power constitutional?: He said he had opinions. But he said he respected the legislature. “I will lead through the tools I have,” he said. “I have significant additional tools, but I need the legislature to back me up on it.”

Private vaccination mandates: He said he wouldn’t encourage private businesses to require vaccinations of workers, but said he supported private businesses’ decisions.

Today’s hospital rundown

Current hospitalizations: 1,250

Total Beds: 8,832

Total Beds Available: 1,715

Total ICU Beds: 1,172

Total ICU Beds Available: 38

Total Vents: 1,084

Total Vents Available: 591

Total Covid patients in ICU: 451

Total Covid patients on vents: 260