U.S. increasing state's doses; no OK needed for gatherings up to 100, governor says

Gov. Asa Hutchinson arrives Tuesday Sept. 29, 2020 in Little Rock for his weekly covid-19 briefing at the state Capitol. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/930governor/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)
Gov. Asa Hutchinson arrives Tuesday Sept. 29, 2020 in Little Rock for his weekly covid-19 briefing at the state Capitol. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/930governor/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that the state next week will receive its biggest increase so far in its weekly allocation of coronavirus vaccine from the federal government.

Hutchinson also announced that the state Department of Health has revised its rules so that indoor events with up to 100 people can once again be held without submitting a plan to the department for approval.

Since Jan. 2, organizers of events with more than 10 people had been required to submit plans.

"In January of this year we were really at the height of the pandemic in Arkansas, the number of new cases, and so this was implemented as an extra precaution, trying to get us through the winter," Hutchinson said.

"Now that we see our cases more in line with where they were last late October and early November of last year, we can go back to where we were previously."

Hutchinson said the Health Department had also changed its rules to allow tournaments for "close-contact" school and community team sports as long as the Health Department approves a plan outlining the precautions that will be taken.

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The announcements were made as the state's count of coronavirus cases rose by just 177 during a slowdown in testing caused by winter storms.

The number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell by four, to 638.

Those patients included 110 who were on ventilators, down from 111 a day earlier.

The state death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Health Department, rose by 12, to 5,287.

Hutchinson said he learned of the increase in the amount of vaccine going to states next week during a conference call Tuesday with the White House covid-19 response team.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arkansas will receive enough vaccine next week to provide initial doses to 58,150 people, up from 47,425 this week.

Those doses are in addition to booster shots the state receives each week for people who received their initial dose earlier.

Hutchinson said President Joe Biden's administration appeared to responding to feedback from him and other governors by allocating the increase in vaccine doses to the states rather than creating a federal program to disburse it.

However, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing Tuesday that, in addition to increasing the amount of vaccine going to states, the administration was doubling the amount of vaccine going to Walmart and other retailers under a federal program.

"It's not just my message, but it's the message of the National Governors Association and the governors individually that we are doing a good job getting the vaccinations out, and that our encouragement is that all we need is a greater supply," Hutchinson, who is vice chairman of the association, said.

While the state had previously received increases in the amount of Moderna vaccine it receives each week, next week it's the state's allocation of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech that will go up.

The state will receive enough of the Pfizer vaccine to provide initial doses to 29,250 people, according to the CDC.

That's an increase of 10,725 initial Pfizer doses compared with what the state was allocated this week.

The state's weekly allocation of initial Moderna vaccine doses remained the same, at 28,900.


Winter weather continued to hamper the state's vaccination and testing efforts on Tuesday.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' vaccine clinic at the Freeway Medical Tower in Little Rock and drive-thru testing site remained closed Tuesday for the second day in a row.

Both sites will remain closed today, UAMS spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said.

"We're waiting to see what happens with the weather," Taylor said. "Hopefully, we'll be back in business soon."

A Baptist Health vaccine clinic in Little Rock remained open Tuesday, administering doses to about 100 people, but will be closed today, spokeswoman Cara Wade said.

She said the health system plans for the clinic to be open Friday. It will make a decision today on whether it will be open Thursday, she said.

In Jonesboro, St. Bernards Medical Center was administering some second doses at a hospital-owned auditorium, primarily to health care workers, but rescheduled appointments that had been set for Monday and Thursday for people age 70 and older to receive their initial shots, spokesman Mitchell Nail said.

Those appointments were moved to Monday of next week, he said.

"As much as we recognize the importance of getting this vaccine out as quickly as possible, the weather is the biggest issue this week," Nail said.

Chris Durney, a spokesman for the Central Arkansas Veterans Health Care System, said the system was continuing to administer doses at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock and Eugene J. Towbin Healthcare Center in North Little Rock.

But he said the system rescheduled vaccinations that had been set for this week at its community-based outpatient clinics, which are in Mena, Mountain Home, Searcy, Russellville, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, El Dorado and Conway.

"We have a mobile team that goes to each clinic," Durney said. "If you're trying to get a team between here and Mena, we'd rather they be safe this week."

He said the system has administered shots to more than 8,100 people, including more than 5,800 veterans and 2,300 employees.

More than 2,300 veterans and 1,900 employees have received both the initial dose and booster shot, he said.

After being closed on Monday for George Washington's Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day, all of the Health Department's 94 local health units, which offer covid-19 testing, remained closed Tuesday because of the weather.


According to the Health Department, pharmacies and other providers participating in the vaccination effort being coordinated by the state had received 658,000 doses of vaccine as of Tuesday morning, a number that hadn't changed from a day earlier.

They reported having administered 458,431 of those, up 3,342 from the number as of a day earlier.

In addition, the Health Department said Walmart, Walgreens and CVS had administered a total of 23,080 doses, an increase of 121 from a day earlier.

Walgreens and CVS were allocated 49,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine for residents and workers in Arkansas long-term-care facilities as part of a federal program.

They have since made some of the doses available to eligible members of the broader public after it was discovered that they had more than they needed to cover the facilities.

Walmart was allocated 11,600 doses last week for vaccinations that began at 58 stores in the state last week as part of a different federal program.

On its website, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 343,637 Arkansans, or about 11.4% of the state's population, had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Tuesday.

That included 136,415 people, or about 4.5% of the state's population, who had received both doses.

Arkansas ranked 30th among the states and District of Columbia in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one dose of vaccine and 24th in the percentage who had received both doses.

Nationally, 11.9% of people had received at least one dose of vaccine, and 4.5% had received both doses.


Hutchinson announced the tighter restriction on indoor events in late December as the number of hospitalized covid-19 patients in the state was rising to new records.

After peaking in early January, however the number of hospitalized virus patients and the state's average daily case increases have mostly fallen, with the number of hospitalized patients on Tuesday reaching its lowest level since Oct. 25.

The stricter limit on events had originally been scheduled to expire March 1.

Along with the revised limit, the Health Department this week also published separate rules for events with 100 or fewer people.

"This is not opening up the Wild West," Hutchinson said at his weekly covid-19 news conference, held via video-conference on Tuesday because of the weather. "It's not acting without department approval on major indoor events."

The rules cover movie theaters, convention centers and other venues, but don't apply to restaurants, casinos or places of worship, which are covered under other regulations or guidance documents.

A Health Department rule on school and community close-contact sports had previously prohibited competitions involving more than two teams "due to the risk of spreading COVID-19 to multiple communities at once."

But Hutchinson said volleyball players from Arkansas were competing in tournaments in other states, "so there wasn't any advantage to us by not having -- by prohibiting those programs in Arkansas."

According to the revised rules, the "host venue is responsible for compliance with the plan and will be held accountable."

Tuesday's was the first daily increase in cases since May that was smaller than 200.

Hutchinson called the size of the increase "not very significant in terms of meaning" because of the reduction in testing.

The Health Department reported that a total of 2,232 polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests and antigen tests of Arkansans were performed Monday -- less than a third of the number that were performed a week earlier.

Hutchinson said the state's reduction in hospitalized patients was a better measure of the state's progress and called it "great news" that the number of cases that were considered active dipped below 10,000.

That number fell by 1,390, to 9,104, as 1,555 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.

The last time the state's active case tally was below 10,000 was Nov. 3.


The cases that were added to the state's tallies on Tuesday included 94 that were confirmed through PCR tests.

The other 83 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through antigen tests.

Washington County had the largest number of new cases, 24, followed by Pulaski and Jefferson counties which each had 18, Lonoke County, which had 15, and Benton County, which had 14.

Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department's count of cases rose by one.

Department of Correction spokeswoman Cindy Murphy said the state prison system didn't have any new cases among inmates.

The state's death toll grew by 11, to 4,233 among confirmed cases and by one, to 1,054, among probable cases.

Among nursing home and assisted living facility residents, the state's count of virus deaths rose by one, to 1,995.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 grew by 37, to 14,392.

The number of the state's virus patients who have ever been on a ventilator with covid rose by five, to 1,480.

Information for this article was contributed by Jeannie Roberts of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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