Governor Hutchinson’s weekly news briefing today included news that the state would recommend looser guidelines for obtaining COVID-19 booster shots than the Centers for Disease Control is recommending and concern about the federal vetting of placement of unaccompanied minors taken into custody after unauthorized border crossings.

The current recommendations on booster shots by the  CDC:

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The state, instead, is encouraging everyone 18 and older to get a booster, without condition.

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Health Director Jose Romero and Education Secretary Johnny Key both noted a rise in COVID cases in the schools. Romero attributed some of it to schools dropping mask requirements. He urged parents to have children wear masks, if required or not, and to be vaccinated. He said the disease is very serious and can cause long-term complications, hospitalization and death.

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Romero said 4.2 percent of children 5-11 had received a shot and 51.2 percent of those aged 12 to 18.

Hutchinson said Arkansas wanted to clear up any confusion about booster shots and make clear everyone 18-plus is eligible. He hasn’t changed his position in opposition to vaccination mandates, except by private businesses that choose to impose them.

On immigrant children, Hutchinson announced that he had written the federal Health and Human Services Department to say the state was discovering a failure of vetting of placement of unaccompanied minors who’ve been taken into custody after unauthorized border crossings. He said other governors share this concern and tie it in part to a need for stronger border controls.

About 672 such minors have been released to Arkansas to live with sponsors in the last year, but he said all sponsors had not been adequately vetted and weren’t suitable for the care of the children. In the last month, he said seven children had been taken into state custody because of poor care. This adds costs to the state for medical, behavioral and shelter needs. He said he wants explanations of how the vetting process is working and is concerned that the children may be victims of trafficking.

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He said children had been abandoned, there’d been an increase in calls to the child abuse hotline about unaccompanied children and the vetting process is clearly “not working” in some cases. Home studies and background checks are important, as is coordination with the state, a state DHS official said.

The governor released the daily COVID-19 numbers, typically low for a Monday. He emphasized the drop in active cases and the continuing low number of people hospitalized. He also said the state was doing better at vaccinations, despite the low count today.

On other topics:

SPECIAL SESSION: A bill to cut the top individual income tax rate by more than 17 percent, from 5.9 to 4.9 percent, is being circulated but he wouldn’t announce a date for the special session until he was sure the bill had majority support. He said the special session likely will include some smaller issues, but “nothing startling.”

INFRASTRUCTURE: He again endorsed the infrastructure bill President Biden is signing today as a “good benefit” to the state of Arkansas. He said he opposed the supplemental spending bill the president is proposing but said that shouldn’t cause criticism of the infrastructure bill, which will bring $5 billion in projects to Arkansas.