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COVID-19 update: 'Common sense' to decide mask use, governor says

by David Showers | March 31, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.
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:

• 259,223 cumulative confirmed cases, up 103 from Monday.

• 120 rolling seven-day average of new confirmed cases, down 2.29 from Monday.

• 2,851,439 PCR test reports, up 3,952 from Monday.

• 9.1% cumulative PCR infection rate, no change from Monday.

• 70,963 cumulative probable cases, up 75 from Monday.

• 16% cumulative antigen infection rate, down 0.2% from Monday.

• 1,717 active confirmed and probable cases, down 56 from Monday.

• 322,809 recoveries of confirmed and probable cases, up 219 from Monday.

• 2,004,590 vaccine doses received, up 350,140 from Monday.

• 1,118,275 doses given, up 146,655 from Monday.

• 170 hospitalizations, up six from Monday.

• 25 cases on a ventilator, down three from Monday.

• 63 ICU patients, down one from Monday.

• 4,480 confirmed deaths, up 10 from Monday.

• 1,136 probable deaths, up five from Monday.

• 2,063 nursing home deaths, up three from Monday.

• 8,437 cumulative confirmed cases in Garland County, up three from Monday.

• 111,108 PCR and antigen test reports, up 448 from Monday.

• 83,770 private lab reports, up 64 from Monday.

• 26,962 public lab reports, up eight from Monday.

• 8.7% cumulative PCR infection rate, no change from Monday.

• 20 active confirmed cases in Garland County, down six from Monday.

• 8,211 recoveries of confirmed cases in Garland County, up eight from Monday.

• 1,599 cumulative probable cases in Garland County, up nine from Monday.

• Two active probable cases in Garland County, down two from Monday.

• 206 confirmed deaths, up one from Monday.

• 49 probable deaths, no change from Monday.

Hutchinson said "common sense" will govern the decision to wear a mask in Arkansas, shifting the onus from the mandate he imposed through executive action last summer to individuals and businesses.

"By the criteria we set, it's an appropriate time to lift the mask mandate, effective (Tuesday)," he said. "I would add this does not mean the use of the mask will cease. Many times during the day I will wear the mask. While I've been vaccinated, it's important to be courteous to others and be mindful that we need to protect ourselves and others.

"Please respect decisions to require masks, whether it's a private business or an individual. ... There is a weariness from government restrictions and mandates. The people would like to be able to make their good choices. They can make a choice to whether they want to go into a business that doesn't have a mask policy."

He said the criterion tied to positive tests as a percent of total tests wasn't met. The combined positivity rate for polymerase chain reaction and antigen testing is below the criterion's 10% requirement, but flagging demand for testing kept the state below the threshold of the 7,500 daily test average.

The state is well below the 750 hospitalizations criterion. Hospitalizations have been below 200 for more than a week and haven't been above 750 since Feb. 9.

Hutchinson said the Department of Health is developing metrics he can use to decide if the mask mandate needs to be reinstated, but he doesn't foresee that happening.

"It would be my hope and belief that with the vaccines getting out, that we're going to be able to keep the pressure on the virus and keep it from spreading," he said. "If our population is not vaccinated, and we see an increase in the virus, then, sure, we're going to have to take a look at what measures we need to take. The future is in our hands about getting vaccinated."

Hutchinson said everyone who's over the age of 16 is now eligible for vaccination. By ending phased distribution, he hopes his goal of 1 million shots in the next 60 days can be achieved. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics he shared showed 1,153,739 of the 1,662,850 doses sent to Arkansas have been administered.

The total includes doses the state receives from the federal government's per capita distribution and doses the federal government distributes directly to pharmacies and health care providers.

Dr. Jose Romero, the state's secretary of health, said the CDC detected the United Kingdom and California variants of the virus in 17 specimens the state submitted for genetic sequence testing.

"They are here and beginning to form part of the normal repertoire for viruses here in the state," he said.

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