Governor announces COVIDComm, vaccine update at weekly press conference

FORT SMITH, Ark. – Governor Asa Hutchinson updated Arkansans on vaccine distribution, testing in correctional facilities, and modifications in schools during his weekly press conference. He also announced a state-wide trauma system designed specifically for COVID-19 patients.

There are 2,141 new cases that have been reported in the state, 1,236 confirmed and 905 deemed probable. Hospitalizations are up by 20, and 26 more Arkansans have died from the disease.

At the halfway point in the month, there have been 177,00 PCR tests administered.

Vaccine update

Arkansas hospitals began receiving the first of an anticipated 25,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.

In addition to the Pfizer vaccine, Dr. Jose Romero, Secretary of the Department of Health said they are also expecting Moderna’s vaccine soon.

The Moderna vaccine would be available for people 18 years and older, as opposed to Pfizer’s which has a lower age threshold at 16 years.

“Safety has never been compromised for any of these vaccines,” Romero said in response to concerns over the vaccines’ safety.  He noted there are at least four different ways of tracking safety signals, including allowing the public to self-report relations.

Romero also noted that the vaccine does cause redness at the injection site and may have some mild side effects.

In response to questions, Romero also said that essential personnel, including teachers, will likely be next in line to receive the vaccine after front line health care workers and nursing home residents.

Holiday plans

Romero also encouraged Arkansans to rethink their holiday plans.

“This pandemic is not under control. You should reassess your holiday plans this year,” he said.

The CDC currently advises against non-essential travel, even within the state, and encourages limiting the number of people indoors, and wearing masks.

Correctional facilities and testing

Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections laid out the success of the department’s testing program.

Since October, they have administered almost 44,000 rapid tests, and have identified 141 positive staff members.

These are part of a weekly strategy in all state prisons and community corrections centers for all staff to receive tests.

“While that may appear to some to be a small amount within a congregant housing setting, being able to get in front of the asymptomatic spread of the COVID virus is an extremely important tool,” Graves said.

As a result, they have seen a flattening of positive results over the last two months.

Graves also announced they ADC will receive another allocation of tests which should last them until the end of February.

Arkansas schools and modifications

This week only five schools have submitted modifications due to COVID-19.  Arkansas Department of Education secretary Johnny Key noted in the two weeks following Thanksgiving, they have seen fewer modifications than in the two weeks after Halloween.

Currently, there are 48 active modifications.

Key also praised Fort Smith School District for its “On Track” program.  The program allows students at  Northside and Southside high schools who are failing one or more subjects to develop a plan that would allow them to progress in their education.

“Look to Fort Smith as a model of how to make sure the community is behind these students, helping the teachers and helping the administrators to make sure these students do not fall behind and stay behind,” Key said, praising the district.

Currently, the ADE has identified more than 5,000 Arkansas students who are registered for online courses but are not logging in, failing courses or their districts don’t know where they are.

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