Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he is pleased with the state’s COVID trends during his weekly briefing Wednesday at the state Capitol.

The state reported 882 new cases and 10,272 vaccines given since Tuesday.

“This is down from a week ago again; our trend line continues,” the governor said of the new cases.

He said that while he was happy to see more than 10,000 vaccines administered in a single day, several of those were booster doses.

“About 50 percent of those, roughly, have been booster doses in recent weeks,” Hutchinson said.

Six more Arkansans had died as a result of COVID-19 bringing the state’s death toll to 7,781. Hospitalizations were down by 40 from the previous day, meaning 624 were in hospitals due to COVID across the state. Fifteen fewer people – 173 – were on ventilators.

Nearly 90 percent of those who had died or were hospitalized with the virus were unvaccinated.

“This is a reminder that vaccination is the best opportunity to not get infected, to stay out of the hospital and to reduce the chance of death,” he said. “Over 64 percent of eligible Arkansans have been vaccinated.”

Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero shared state data presented to a national council recently, which highlights how much more dangerous to young people the Delta variant seems to be.

There was an 84.4 percent increase in pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID across the state from December 2020 to August 2021.

“The purpose of this is to dispel some of the myths that this is a benign disease in children,” Dr. Romero said. “We’re seeing more kids going into the ICU. Those children are requiring more ventilator use than in the past. This disease does have significant ramifications in ages 12-18.”

That’s why, he said, the Arkansas Department Health (ADH) is “recommending masking in schools and quarantining in schools because we want to reduce the spread to those very susceptible individuals. Also for those under 12, who we don’t currently have a vaccine for.”

The governor announced a pilot program, Test to Stay, that would allow students exposed to a positive case to avoid quarantine as long as they’re tested frequently and those tests are negative.

He praised the four schools participating in the pilot program – Russellville, Springdale, Cabot and Bentonville.

“I applaud those schools for working with the health department and the Department of Education to give another option to keep in classrooms, avoid quarantine, but do it in a safe way,” Hutchinson said.

Secretary of Education Johnny Key said ADE is promoting an existing employee assistance program which provides counselors to educators and members of their families at no cost.

“Your mental health is important to us and it’s important to your students,” Key said. “ If you need to talk to someone, this is a way you can access this free of charge, completely confidential. This is not a new program, it’s an existing program.”

He urged anyone who wants to use the program to find details on the ADE’s social media pages.

Jeanette Anderton can be reached at janderton@thecabin.net.

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