Arkansas will be ending its COVID-19 public health emergency at the end of May.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson will not be extending the public health emergency declaration, which will expire on Sunday, May 30. Hutchinson first initiated the public health emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Hutchinson explained during a press conference that he was ending the emergency period because of the increased knowledge surrounding the COVID-19 virus, saying that there was no longer a true emergency in the state.
“The reason that we’re ending the public health emergency declaration is that everybody in Arkansas knows what to do. Our hospitalizations are down. Every adult in Arkansas – in fact 12-plus years of age – have access to vaccines that we did not access before. Everybody knows what to do – it is not an emergency. It is an maintenance of effort in terms of our vaccine and managing the pandemic,” he said.
On Thursday, May 20, there were 2,053 active COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, an increase of 54 from the previous day. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 339,662 cases, which was an increase of 256 from Wednesday. Hospitalizations were also up on Thursday, rising by 15 to 203.
While the emergency declaration will expire, Hutchinson noted that several emergency orders, particularly ones related to telehealth and business liability protections, would not be affected. These orders, he said, had been enshrined in law during the recent legislative session.
Despite the end of the emergency, he cautioned that the COVID-19 virus was still present and a public health threat in the state. Hutchinson told reporters that the public health emergency’s expiration should not “diminish” individuals’ plans to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
“The fact that I am ending the declaration of a public health emergency does not change the fact that we still have the COVID-19 virus in our community. It does not change the fact that our public health system has to continue to deal with it. It doesn’t change the fact that we need to continue to get vaccinations out. We can do this in terms of a long-term maintenance of effort, and it is not necessary to have the emergency declaration to carry out this public health responsibility,” Hutchinson said.
The state has launched multiple vaccination campaigns in an effort to increase the vaccination rate in Arkansas. There is a $6.4 million ad campaign encouraging people to obtain vaccinations, as well as a $2 million minority ad campaign that is targeting specific demographic groups.
Two ads were shown during the press conference, with one featuring former Razorback basketball star Sidney Moncrief and the other featuring local food influencers. These influencers included featuring Julie Roberts, co-owner of Bulldog Restaurant; Layonya Peten-Barksdale of Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ in McCroy; Joe St. Columbia of Pasquale’s Tamales in Helena-West Helena; and James Jones of Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna.