Arkansas is expanding its vaccine rollout in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday in his weekly COVID-19 press briefing. Starting Jan. 18, the state will extend its vaccine rollout to include staff of K-12 schools and higher education institutions, as well as individuals 70 years of age or older.
The governor made the decision to expand rollout after consultation with the Department of Health and local hospitals which had expressed interest in moving to additional population groups, the governor said.
With the decision to expand rollout, 443,000 additional Arkansans will be eligible to be vaccinated against the coronavirus on Jan. 18, putting stress on a rollout system which has already been slow to get doses into people’s arms.
Of the doses available to be given, only 39.3 percent of them have been administered. Despite the difficulties, the governor said he expects distribution to expand more quickly as the weeks move on, with an expected end of rollout for Phase 1A on track for the end of January.
Other vaccine news the governor discussed included an announcement that 3 percent of Arkansas’ population has been vaccinated, while the state has also decided to involve the military in rolling out vaccines to the public.
New coronavirus case numbers were high again on Tuesday, with the state adding 3,209 cases of COVID-19. More positive news came on the hospitalizations front, with a decrease of 17 hospitalized, as well as 17 fewer patients on ventilators. However, the state added an additional 40 people to the death toll from COVID-19, bringing the number of coronavirus deaths to 4,121.
Pulaski and Sebastian counties led the way with new cases, recording more than 400 each in both counties.
Reporters present at the briefing also grilled the governor on the state’s preparations for handling potential violence outside the State Capitol in the weeks ahead. Reports have emerged that suggest pro-Trump extremists might stage similar demonstrations as the one at the U.S. Capitol last week, which lead to a riot and the storming of the capitol building, as well as the death of a Capitol Police officer, at state capitols across the country.
The governor said the state was prepared with additional security measures for any demonstration they might need to respond to and were coordinating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the State Police.
“We will protect the capitol, [as it is] the seat of our democracy in Arkansas,” the governor said.
Despite plans to remain prepared, the governor said he thought the possibility for violent demonstrations in Arkansas was less likely as in other states, citing the fact Arkansas wasn’t a swing state in the 2020 election.