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State's active covid cases drop by 210; Hutchinson says some vaccine mandates OK

New covid-19 infections rise by 383; deaths at 8,200, up 5 by Bill Bowden | October 18, 2021 at 7:16 a.m.
Registered nurses Amanda Velasquez (left) and Ursula Dixon take swabs from a couple in April 2020 at a drive-up coronavirus testing site at Arkansas Surgical Hospital in North Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

The total number of active covid-19 cases in Arkansas dropped by 210 on Sunday to 6,569, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

Active cases have dropped by 1,027 over the past week and by 9,739 over the past month.

"We continue to see declining new and active cases throughout the state," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a Twitter message Sunday. "Vaccine numbers remain in the typical range for the weekend. The sooner we get vaccine doses into the arms of Arkansans, the sooner we can see a further decline of hospitalizations and deaths from covid-19."

Total cases increased by 383, according to Sunday's report, indicating a total of 506,956 Arkansans have tested positive for covid-19 since March 2020.

Counties with the most new cases added were Union, with 37; Pulaski, with 33; and Sebastian with 30.

Total deaths in Arkansas related to the coronavirus increased by five, to 8,200, according to Sunday's update.

The number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 or on ventilators remained unchanged since Saturday's report: 462 hospitalized and 133 on ventilators. A month ago, 999 Arkansans were hospitalized with covid-19 and 298 were on ventilators.

Another 2,623 doses of vaccines were administered with another 1,023 Arkansans becoming fully immunized, according to Sunday's report. A total of 1,373,068 Arkansans have been fully immunized. Arkansas' population is just over 3 million.

That Health Department's data includes confirmed and probable cases.

Speaking Sunday on NBC television's "Meet the Press, Hutchinson said he's against government mandating covid-19 vaccinations, but he's not against companies doing so.

"Let me make it clear that when I say I don't believe we ought to be engaging in mandates, I'm speaking of the government mandates, whether it's a federal government mandate or a state government mandate," Hutchinson told moderator Chuck Todd.

Hutchinson said it's not practical or principled for states to prevent employers from requiring vaccinations of their workers.

"So, I am a defender of the employer's right to provide a healthy workplace," said Hutchinson. "You would have just as many workers say, 'I don't want to work there because it's not a healthy workplace, because not everybody's going to be vaccinated.'

"The employers are in a tough position. They should have the prerogative to make those decisions, and I support that."

Hutchinson made the comments after Todd noted that the vaccination rate in Arkansas increased from 36% to 46% after two Arkansas companies -- Walmart and Tyson Foods Inc. -- announced their own vaccine mandates.

Hutchinson said government should stay out of private business decisions.

Todd asked Hutchinson why he didn't fight his Republican colleagues in the state Legislature on the issue. Arkansas lawmakers recently passed two bills that require employers that mandate vaccinations to provide an exemption process for workers, including requiring them to produce a negative antigen test once a week or proof of immunity, including the presence of antibodies, twice a year.

Last week, Hutchinson said the bills are designed to push back on President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for federal contractors and employers with more than 100 employees.

Hutchinson didn't sign the bills, but he also didn't veto them.

Hutchinson explained to Todd that his veto could be overridden by a simple majority and dragging the debate out would just cause more problems.

"I didn't want to bring them in for that same debate because every time we debate and spend a week debating vaccine mandates and efficacy, our resistance increases and our acceptance goes down," he said.

Hutchinson also addressed the issue earlier in the interview.

"I'd like to see us get back to, without the mandate battle, let's just encourage the vaccine acceptance, build confidence in it," he said. "And that's the direction we need to go. My heart goes out to these workers that many of them say, 'We're not anti-vax. Were just anti-mandate.' And they're making a principled stand. And that sort of makes the point that the mandates are not being beneficial. So, I pushed back here in Arkansas that we don't need to counter a federal mandate on our employers with a state mandate on our employers. That's just the wrong direction and I made that point."

Print Headline: Active cases in state down 1,027 in week

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