The highly infectious delta variant continues to rip through Arkansas and the rest of the country. The South, with a higher share of its population unvaccinated, has been hit especially hard.
Arkansas’s spike in hospitalizations comes as vaccinations there lag compared with the rest of the country. Less than 38 percent of Arkansans are fully vaccinated, compared with 50 percent of the United States as a whole, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Hutchinson connected the two occurrences and said that more inoculations would ease the pressure on the health-care system.
“Vaccinations reduce hospitalizations,” he said.
Hutchinson’s update came a week after the governor said he wished he hadn’t signed a bill into law this past spring banning local officials from requiring people to wear masks during the pandemic. In March, as the number of coronavirus infections fell, Arkansas lawmakers let a mask mandate expire. About a month later, the ban against such mandates came across Hutchinson’s desk.
Now, the governor has called on state lawmakers to consider reversing the ban during a special session so school districts can require students to wear face coverings when they head back to their classrooms later this month.
“In hindsight, I wish that it had not become law,” he said at an Aug. 3 news conference.
Since then, the number of new infections has kept rising, jumping 21 percent in the state while deaths rose by 40 percent, according to The Post’s coronavirus analysis. The resurging infection rates have health-care workers in Arkansas and other states burned out, leading some to quit their jobs, The Post reported last week.
Iowa, which has a similar population to Arkansas, was reporting 214 coronavirus-related hospitalizations as of Tuesday morning. That’s less than one-sixth the number of hospitalizations Hutchinson reported in Arkansas on Monday. About half of people in Iowa have been fully vaccinated, according to The Post’s vaccine tracker.
Hutchinson’s reversal on mask mandates contrasts with other conservatives who have continued fighting government-led mandates to stem the virus’s spread, which has been fueled by the ascendant delta variant. On Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said on Fox News that officials should pass no mandates requiring people to wear masks or get vaccinated.
“Democrats … do not respect your liberty, they do not respect your right to make your choices,” Cruz said.
“There should be no mandates,” he added, “zero concerning covid.”
On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called on people to “resist” measures to stop the virus’s spread, including what he called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “anti-science mask mandates.”
“We don’t have to accept the mandates, lockdowns and harmful policies of the petty tyrants and bureaucrats. We can simply say no, not again,” he said in a Twitter video. “They can’t arrest all of us. They can’t keep all of your kids home from school. They can’t keep every government building closed.”
Last week, President Biden denounced governors who had banned businesses and universities from requiring vaccines or rebuffed the CDC’s masking recommendations. He pleaded with them to help or get out of the way, before specifically calling out Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, both Republicans.
DeSantis recently signed an executive order barring schools from requiring masks while Abbott has prohibited local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines.
“Their decisions are not good for their constituents,” Biden said.
DeSantis has since doubled down, and on Monday threatened to withhold the pay of school officials who require students to wear masks.