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Governor, public health officials keep up vaccination mantra by Brenda Blagg | July 14, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

That old saw about knowledge being power has never been truer than in its application to the coronavirus.

While most Arkansans are going about their business as if the virus is under control, others are more wary, voluntarily wearing masks and keeping their distance from strangers, at least in close quarters.


They likely know there's a new surge of covid-19 cases going on and that some authorities have warned that even fully vaccinated persons can carry the virus to others.

Consider the alarming numbers of new covid-19 cases reported in this state in the wake of last week's Fourth of July holiday.

On Wednesday, new cases totaled 1,000, the largest one-day increase in Arkansas since February.

The next day, the number of new cases hit 1,210.

And on Friday, there were 1,115 more new cases.

Over the weekend, there were 2,014 more, giving the state a total of 7,255 active cases to start this week, 565 of them people sick enough to be hospitalized. Hospitalizations were again the largest number in the state since February.

Notably, new cases have been surpassing recoveries as hospitals brace for another round.

And, yes, some Arkansans are still dying from known or suspected virus-related cases, adding to the 5,955 deaths in this state since the start of this misery.

This latest surge is unwelcome, especially since at least part of the upswing is attributable to the delta variant that is more easily transmitted and reportedly making people sicker quicker.

The new targets, according to the experts, are unvaccinated, younger adults (30- to 54-year-olds) who for some reason have avoided the shots that can ward off infection or lessen its impact.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week began an outreach effort with a series of community meetings across the state.

He calls them listening sessions and intends to hear out those people who are hesitant to be vaccinated and get them the information that might change their minds.

At the first of those sessions, in Cabot last week, only one person took advantage of the convenient opportunity to get vaccinated. But maybe that will change as the governor and his team learn more about combating reluctance to the vaccines.

Arkansas needs a breakthrough strategy. The vaccination rate at week's end ranked 44th in the nation and is, the governor said, stalled at about 40 percent of those eligible for the vaccine. Until that rate improves, the numbers of new cases will keep climbing.

Hutchinson is advocating what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended, emphasizing that those who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks. He calls the mask-less, "more normal" life a reward for getting vaccinated and protected.

Meanwhile, he's also encouraging people not yet vaccinated to talk to their doctors and other trusted persons to get their lingering questions about vaccination answered.

They might not get the same advice he and the CDC are offering, at least when it comes to masks and other defensive measures.

One sizable group, the 23-member health policy board of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, recently unanimously approved what the center's chief executive, former Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson, called an "important call to action."

It is chock-full of advice from the physicians and health care and business executives that make up the nonprofit's board.

Escalation of covid-19, as driven by the more infectious delta variant, combined with Arkansas' low vaccination rate are indeed "cause for alarm," according to the board chaired by retired state Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck.

Its members even suggested those who have been vaccinated consider re-instituting defensive measures like wearing face masks in public, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

Arkansans "should recognize that because of Arkansas's low vaccination rate, whenever they enter a public place such as a grocery store, entertainment venue, church, or dormitory, they likely are around other unprotected people, and the virus is likely present," the board said.

"The unprotected should get vaccinated today to protect themselves, their families and others around them ― especially because young children (under 12 years old) are not currently eligible for the vaccine."

The board advised people who have recovered from covid-19 infections to get vaccinated because the antibodies developed as a result of infection "do not provide total protection," particularly against the delta variant.

And those who have only one shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, they said, really should get a second dose as soon as the protocol allows.

The point here is that there is a wealth of guidance for dealing with the virus, including its newer strains. The guidance pretty much starts and ends with getting more of the population vaccinated.

Whatever the side effects from any of the vaccines might be, they're just not as bad as what infection from the virus can bring.

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