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State sweetens the pot to rev up vaccinations

Shots to earn lottery tickets, licensing gifts by Andy Davis | May 26, 2021 at 7:18 a.m.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson wears a face mask to a press conference in Little Rock in this Nov. 12, 2020, file photo.

Joining a growing list of states offering incentives to the public to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, Arkansas will reward those getting shots with their choice of lottery tickets or gift certificates for hunting and fishing licenses, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday.

Starting next Tuesday, people who receive shots today or later can claim one of two gifts: a $20 scratch-off ticket from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, or two Game and Fish Commission gift certificates worth a total of $21.

Hutchinson said the state is using $2 million in federal funds to buy 50,000 lottery tickets and 50,000 pairs of gift certificates. It could buy more if the reward program is successful, he said.

People can claim the prizes at one of the state Department of Health's 92 local health units or at "special events across the state," he said.

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The announcement came as the state's count of coronavirus cases rose by 329 Tuesday, the biggest one-day increase in more than a month.

The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Health Department, rose by four, to 5,824.

The number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 rose by five, to 200.

"It's a reminder that we still have the covid-19 virus in our community," Hutchinson said after going over the day's numbers in a news conference at the state Capitol. "There's a reason to get a vaccine."

He repeated "there's a reason to get a vaccine, and that is to make sure that we beat this."

The announcement of the incentive program came less than a week after Hutchinson announced that state agencies under his control will award $200 bonuses to employees who receive at least one vaccine dose by July 1.

"People asked me, 'Well, how about the general public? You've got to do something to encourage the general public to get vaccinated,'" Hutchinson said.

He said he asked officials with the Health Department and Department of Finance and Administration "to see what we could do to give something to the general public to incentivize them, encourage them and also make it some fun as they go about getting the vaccine and we increase these numbers."

Health Department Chief of Staff Stephanie Williams said the state is paying for the incentives with funds distributed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for vaccination efforts.

The federal agency approved the incentive program Sunday, she said.

She said the CDC encourages keeping the value of such incentives at $25 or less and prohibited them from being offered to people who got their shots before the program was announced.

According to a document provided by Hutchinson's office, Arkansas' rewards will be available to a person who receives either a first or second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine today or later.

Those who were fully vaccinated before today won't be eligible.

Each person will be eligible for only one reward, meaning someone who claims a reward for the first dose of a two-dose series won't be able to get a second reward for the second dose.

The Health Department will mark a person's vaccination card when a reward is claimed to prevent people from claiming multiple rewards.

The lottery tickets will be available to people age 18 and up, while the gift certificates will be available to people of any age who get vaccinations.

The Pfizer vaccine is available to people 12 and older. The vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are authorized for people 18 and older.

Lottery Director Eric Hagler said the $1 Million Spectacular tickets that will be used for the rewards offer a 1-in-3 chance of winning a cash prize ranging from $20 to $1 million.

If the ticket isn't a winner, people can enter the ticket number on the lottery's website for a second chance to win, he said.

"This is one of our most popular games," Hagler said. "We felt like to incentivize individuals to participate in the program, you have to give some value, and this was premium value."

While some states have created separate lotteries for people who get vaccinated, Hutchinson said in Arkansas "there's really only one lottery that's allowed, and that's the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery," so he decided to work through it to offer the rewards.

Arkansas has also offered a chance at winning gift certificates for lodging at state parks to people who get vaccinated at clinics at one of the parks.

The next such clinics will be held Saturday at DeGray Lake Resort State Park, Mississippi River State Park and Petit Jean State Park.

Ohio on May 13 announced a series of statewide drawings for $1 million prizes for people who have had at least one vaccine dose and later credited the initiative for a spike in vaccinations.

Since then, New York, Maryland and other states have announced their own lottery programs for vaccine recipients.

Although Hutchinson said 50% of Arkansas adults had been received at least one vaccine dose as of Tuesday, the CDC's website put the percentage at 49.3%.

Nationally, 61.6% of adults had received at least one vaccine dose.

The number of vaccine doses that had been administered in Arkansas, including second doses of Moderna and Pfizer, rose Tuesday by 9,378, to 1,941,400, according to the Health Department.

After falling Monday, the average number of vaccine doses administered in the state each day over a rolling seven-day period rose Tuesday by almost 300, to 8,350.

That still remained below the average of more than 8,500 a day during the week ending May 18, however, and the peak of about 23,000 a day in early April.

According to the CDC, the number of Arkansans of all ages who had received at least one vaccine dose rose Tuesday by 1,513, to 1,170,081, representing about 38.8% of the state's population.

The number who had been fully vaccinated rose by 960, to 915,272, or about 30.3% of the population.

Among the states and District of Columbia, Arkansas continued to rank 44th in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one vaccine dose and 49th, ahead of only Alabama and Mississippi, in the percentage who had been fully vaccinated.

Nationally, 49.5% of people had received at least one dose, and 39.5% were fully vaccinated.


After rising Monday, the number of covid-19 patients who were on ventilators fell Tuesday by two, to 37.

The number of virus patients who were in intensive care fell from 93 on Monday -- the highest level reported by the Health Department since March 20 -- to 90 on Tuesday.

While the increase in cases Tuesday was the highest since April 21, Hutchinson said it was "comparable" to the rise of 313 cases a week earlier, on May 18.

Tuesday's increase came just a day after an increase of only 49 cases, which was the lowest one-day rise since April 18.

"Week by week, it's fairly steady, but obviously anytime you get over 300 cases, it's worrisome," Hutchinson said.

"There's only one answer to this, and that is increasing the number of vaccinations."

The increase in cases Tuesday came despite a lower number of test results that the Health Department reported receiving Monday compared with a week earlier.

The 1,567 polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test results that the department reported receiving was down by 36 compared with a week earlier, while the 625 antigen test results was down by 177.

Health Secretary Jose Romero said the uptick in cases was likely related to people starting to travel more, a lack of mask use among people who haven't been vaccinated and the rise of faster-spreading coronavirus variants.

"We need to vaccinate," Romero said.

"If we're not going to vaccinate, then this is going to be what we're going to see going forward, with potential of spikes as the season gets colder and we spend more time indoors."


The cases that were added to the state's tallies Tuesday included 189 that were confirmed through PCR tests.

The other 140 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through antigen tests.

That state's cumulative count of cases rose to 340,515.

That comprised 266,110 confirmed cases and 74,405 probable ones.

The number of cases that were considered active rose by 96, to 1,990, as new cases outpaced recoveries.

Pulaski County had the most new cases, 42, followed by Garland County with 36, and Benton County with 18.

The Health Department didn't report any new cases among prison and jail inmates.

The state's death toll rose by three, to 4,621 among confirmed cases and by one, to 1,203, among probable cases.

Among nursing home and assisted living facility residents, the state's count of virus deaths remained at 2,089.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 grew by 23, to 16,251.

The number of the state's virus patients who have ever been on ventilators with covid-19 rose by four, to 1,657.

CORRECTION: The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in Arkansas fell from 93 on Monday to 90 on Tuesday. An previous version of this article incorrectly described the timing of the drop in intensive care patients.


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