Governor Hutchinson’s weekly news briefing emphasized the current rise in COVID cases and commented, “That alone should tell you we’ve got to be very cautious and wise not to have a surge like we did last winter.’

In addition to a rise in active cases by 900, hospitalizations are up by 69 compared with last week. But he said progress was being made in vaccinations, including some 19,000 children aged 5-11, about 7 percent of those children eligible.

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He said the holiday season triggered last year’s spike in cases he urged people to “simply be mindful COVID is still in the community. Protect yourself by getting vaccinated. If people you are with are not vaccinated, be mindful to socially distance or protect yourself.”

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Hutchinson also addressed a popular refrain among vaccine resisters, that people who’ve been infected have natural immunity.

“It is not as effective as the immunity you receive from COVID-19 vaccinations,” he said. Even those who’ve had the virus should be vaccinated and get a booster shot if eligible.

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He noted that natural immunity doesn’t last forever, generally about 90 days and it loses effectiveness more rapidly than the vaccines do. He illustrated the point:

The governor said keeping children in school had not had adverse consequences after Education Secretary Johnny Key praised educators’ work this year. Health Director Jose Romero said multiple factors affect the rise in cases — including pockets of people who haven’t been infected previously and waning immunity among the vaccinated. Under later questioning, Romero confirmed that there were higher transmission rates in districts without mask mandates. There are benefits from masking in schools, he said. “Children that are not vaccinated at a higher risk for complications,” he said.

Q&A

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REDISTRICTING: The governor dodged questions about possible changes in the proposed legislative redistricting. He encouraged people to keep making comments. “We’re working through those changes.”

GAS PRICES: He doubted the release of strategic reserves, as President Biden has proposed, would have a significant impact. He seemed to suggest increased U.S. production was a better course, ignoring the impact foreign producers have had on the rise in prices.

SPECIAL SESSION ON AN INCOME TAX CUT: As soon as he has a majority of both houses in support, he’ll call the session, perhaps the week of Dec. 6. The special session call will have some other items, but he’s not ready to discuss them. The focus, however, is one main point, to lower the income tax rate. He said he hoped a U.S. Supreme Court ruling will determine whether he’d add a Texas-style vigilante-enforced anti-abortion bill to the agenda.