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story.lead_photo.caption This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). - Image by CDC via The Associated Press

As a service to our readers, The Sentinel-Record publishes updates released by the city of Hot Springs and the state of Arkansas.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson held his weekly press update Tuesday at the state Capitol. The following stats were posted Tuesday on the Arkansas Department of Health website:

• 210,873 cumulative confirmed cases, up 2,095 from Monday.

• 2,134.71 rolling seven-day average of new confirmed cases, down 25.72 from Monday.

• 2,208,736 PCR test reports, up 6,245 from Monday.

• 9.5% cumulative PCR infection rate, no change from Monday.

• 227,500 vaccine doses received, up 24,125 from Monday.

• 89,449 doses given, up 8,653 from Monday.

• 48,680 cumulative probable cases, up 1,114 from Monday.

• 19.5% cumulative antigen infection rate, no change from Monday.

• 25,702 active confirmed and probable cases, up 168 from Monday.

• 229,700 recoveries of confirmed and probable cases, up 3,000 from Monday.

• 1,354 hospitalizations, down 17 from Monday.

• 251 cases on a ventilator, down 17 from Monday.

• 452 ICU admissions, down eight from Monday.

• 3,424 confirmed deaths, up 32 from Monday

• 697 probable deaths, up eight from Monday.

• 1,671 nursing home deaths, up 12 from Monday.

• 6,062 cumulative confirmed cases in Garland County, up 144 from Monday.

• 104 rolling seven-day average of new confirmed cases, down 6.71 from Monday.

• 76,645 PCR and antigen test reports, up 529 from Monday.

• 56,491 private lab reports, up 533 from Monday.

• 20,154 public lab reports, down four from Monday.

• 8.7% cumulative PCR infection rate, up from 8.5% Monday.

• 658 active confirmed cases in Garland County, up 84 from Monday.

• 5,259 recoveries of confirmed cases in Garland County, up 59 from Monday.

• 1,044 cumulative probable cases in Garland County, up 31 from Monday.

• 199 active probable cases in Garland County, up five from Monday.

• 145 confirmed deaths, up one from Monday.

• 27 probable deaths, up one from Monday.

Hutchinson announced people 70 and older, kindergarten-12th grade teachers and staff, day care workers and higher education personnel will be eligible for vaccination starting Monday.

The populations are in Phase 1B, the second-highest priority category. Their vaccinations were scheduled to begin next month, but Hutchinson said the more than 400,000 people in those groups can begin being vaccinated next week.

The Health Department said almost 90,000 of the 180,000 in Phase 1A, the highest priority category that includes health care workers, nursing home residents and staff and first responders, have received the first dose of vaccine. Hutchinson said Phase 1A is on target to be completed by the end of the month.

"We want to be able to increase as fast as we can getting these doses into the arms of Arkansans and at the same time being able to manage the limited supply that we're given," he said. "We've been getting about 50,000 doses a week. I expect that to increase. We're trying to set the stage for increasing those doses and getting those out as quick as possible."

Hutchinson said last week that about 30% of health care workers decided to delay their vaccinations.

"They had an opportunity for priority, which was important," he said Tuesday. "Some chose not to take that priority, so we're going to move to other priorities."

Hutchinson's announcement came hours after the federal government recommended states immediately expand vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older and those with underlying conditions. The recommendation marked a shift from the strategy of prioritizing health care workers and high-risk populations to one emphasizing faster distribution.

Hutchinson said including the 65-69 set in the group that's eligible for vaccination Monday would add more than 150,000 people to the queue.

"We'll get there, but we're not ready to do that Monday," he said.

Both vaccines in circulation require two doses given several weeks apart, but the federal government said Tuesday that it's no longer holding back doses for secondary shots.

"While we're going to stick with the regimen of two doses for everybody, we do believe there will be increased supply in coming weeks," Hutchinson said.

He appointed retired Air Force Col. Robert Ator to oversee distribution. The former commander of the 189th Airlift Wing at the Little Rock Air Force Base, Ator serves as the Commerce Department's director of military affairs.

Hutchinson said Ator will be tasked with increasing distribution capacity beyond the more than 200 pharmacies and hospitals currently involved. He said the network the Health Department uses to give flu shots could be applied to vaccine distribution.

"Right now we only have 212 pharmacies involved in 1A," he said. "We're trying to expand that capacity into other pharmacies. We haven't done local health units. We've also talked about strike teams to go into communities. I think the first thing is making sure we're spreading it out to hospitals for large population areas and the pharmacies and expanding the number of providers we have here in the state."

Hutchinson said mass distribution can't begin until more doses become available.

"The mass distribution option is still part of the plans," he said. "That absolutely can be done. But it would not be good to have War Memorial Stadium as a mass distribution center when you only have a limited number of supply of doses. You have to organize this in a way that makes sense. There will be opportunities for mass clinics whenever we have the supply and it makes sense."

Hutchinson said the vaccination plan for the population not included in the first three phases of distribution will be released by the end of the week.

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