The state’s emergency health declaration ends this Sunday, and today I’d like to encourage Arkansans to remember that although the emergency has passed, we are still in a pandemic.
We have plenty of reasons to be optimistic, though. Our hospitalizations are down. The General Assembly enacted into law my emergency orders that allowed telemedicine and liability protection. Now every Arkansan 12 and older has access to vaccines, and the vaccine is the best way to manage COVID.
But these encouraging signs and the end of the emergency declaration do not change the fact that COVID-19 is still in our community. The public health concerns remain, and we must continue to take it seriously.
Throughout the pandemic, I have worked closely with my team at the Arkansas Department of Health as we decided the best course of action. After consulting Health Secretary Dr. José Romero and his experts, I am confident that ending the declaration is the correct action. Arkansans have demonstrated they will do the right thing, so we can safely move from an emergency response to the day-by-day management of the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 50 percent of adult Arkansans have at least one shot. That is good, but we must do better. And we hope to have seventy-percent of all Arkansans to be vaccinated.
We all know that vaccinations are our way out of the pandemic, and that is why I am supporting a program of incentives to help move Arkansas across the finish line.
On Tuesday, I announced the state will purchase fifty-thousand Arkansas Scholarship Lottery scratch-off tickets and fifty-thousand gift certificates for hunting and fishing licenses from Arkansas Game and Fish. Starting this week, everyone who receives a vaccination will get the choice of a lottery ticket or the Game and Fish certificate. If we hand out all of those, we’ll purchase more if this proves successful to motivate more people to get a shot.
In addition for Memorial Day weekend, the Department of Health is partnering with Arkansas State Parks to stage vaccination clinics at three of our state parks – DeGray Lake, Mississippi River, and Petit Jean. The name of everyone who receives a shot at one of these clinics will be entered into a drawing for two nights of free lodging at any of our state parks.
Last week, I announced that employees of the state’s executive branch agencies who receive the vaccination will receive a one-hundred-dollar bonus. We want employees to be immunized so they can be safe. But we also want to create a safe environment for those who must come into a state office, whether it’s to get a driver’s license or register a business.
Memorial Day is the time we officially set aside to honor the memory of those who have given their life in service to the United States. Memorial Day also is the unofficial start of summer. This year, Memorial Day also marks the end of the COVID-19 emergency for Arkansans. We are making progress against the pandemic. Normal life is in sight, and that’s something to be thankful for this Memorial Day.