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As incentives fall flat, Arkansas hopes COVID-19 Delta variant will be reality check for unvaccinated

With the Fourth of July this weekend, and the return to school looming in the fall, Hutchinson said the best solution to keep everyone safe is to get vaccinated.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — There was no sugarcoating the news that COVID-19 cases are surging again in Arkansas during Gov. Asa Hutchinson's weekly press conference Tuesday (June 29). As the Delta variant of the virus begins to encompass the number of new cases in Arkansas, Hutchinson hopes the reality that younger people are being hospitalized with severe symptoms will be enough for the unvaccinated to take action. 

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 479 new COVID-19 cases in the state on Tuesday, 196 additional active cases, and eight more deaths, a return to numbers the state saw last winter around the height of the pandemic. 

Currently, 39% of Arkansans eligible to be vaccinated are fully immunized, and 52.4% of adults in Arkansas (18 and older) have received at least one jab of the shot.

COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to drag in rural counties, with Calhoun, Lafayette, Lincoln, Fulton and Miller rounding out the bottom for the least vaccinated counties in the state. However, in more urban counties, Washington, Pulaski and Benton, nearly 50% of the eligible population is vaccinated. 

During Tuesday's press conference, Hutchinson and UAMS Chancellor Michael Manely shared shocking statistics showing how, since Jan. 26, 2021, there have been 3,765 Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19, and 98.3% of those patients were not immunized. When it comes to deaths, since that same timeframe, there have been 988 COVID-related deaths, and 99.6% of those were from people unvaccinated against the virus. 

"Statistics and science tell the story of what needs to be done," Hutchinson said. "And that means we need to continue to push the vaccination because that's the safest, quickest way out of this." 

The Delta variant hits the state as guards have been lowered and COVID-19 precautions relaxed. When asked if there are any plans to reinstate mask mandates, instate mandatory vaccinations or make another emergency declaration, Hutchinson claimed they are of no use at this point. 

"I don't think there's anything else the government can do, except to be honest with everyone and that they see the reality," Hutchinson said. "Whenever you see the Delta variant wrecking people and sending people to the hospital, that's a reality check and should encourage people to get vaccinated." 

Hutchinson said the state has fallen flat when it comes to incentives to get more people vaccinated, free hunting and fishing licenses, and lottery tickets to those who got vaccinated after May 25. 

"No, it has not been effective in greatly incentivizing people to do the vaccine," he said. 

Due to Constitutional restrictions, the state cannot do a widespread lottery rewarding those who receive the shots as other states have done, Hutchinson said. 

Arkansas will fulfill any commitments for incentives they have started, but Hutchinson said he does not see any new ones been used in the future. 

With the Fourth of July this weekend, and the return to school looming in the fall, Hutchinson said the best solution to keep everyone safe is to get vaccinated.

To view Tuesday's full press conference, visit the link below:

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