Governor Hutchinson’s weekly briefing included a bad piece of COVID-19 news — a jump in the number hospitalized by 55, the biggest one-day jump since January. Of those, 176 are in ICU and 76 are on ventilators.

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Other numbers for the day weren’t so stark, but the government conceded they followed a holiday weekend with scant testing, and our vaccination rate continues to trail most of the country.

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He also acknowledged that the more dangerous Delta variant now comprises about half of those tested, with the chart showing the rising percentage of a form of the virus that transmits more easily and causes more severe illness.

He noted too that the average age of those hospitalized has dropped by 10 years, in part because more older people are being vaccinated. A decline in age has also been noted among those who have died.

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Hutchinson called today for businesses to make a stronger push for vaccinations. He urged them to give paid time off to get shots and to increase access in the workplace. He said the state will provide clinics in workplaces if desired. He urged employers to provide more information to workers. “We’re not mandating anything, we’re asking for help,” Hutchinson. The state’s biggest business lobbyist, Randy Zook of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, joined his call for participation. He noted federal legislation provides a tax credit for paid time off to get shots for all businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

The governor also announced that he was beginning a series of community meetings to talk about vaccinations, the first this Thursday in Cabot. They are intended to overcome people’s hesitancy to get shots. The intent is to “have a conversation,” not lecture people. He said some myths could be address and data demonstrates the “efficacy” of the vaccine.

Dr. Jose Romero, the state health director, said the hospitalization increase was particularly significant since the vaccine is readily available and useful in preventing serious illness. He also said the Delta variant is infecting children, who cannot yet be vaccinated. The only way to protect them is for people around them to get the shots.

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Hutchinson stood by a nationally televised comment Sunday that he didn’t think a “third wave” was coming to Aransas, meaning a rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths equal to what was experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. He said he was concerned about the fallout from the July 4 weekend. He said he hoped people had been responsible.

What about school this fall? The governor noted that the law now prohibits mask mandates. So he said adults should get vaccinated to protect children. Schools cannot require this, however.