Amid a crushing surge of COVID-19 cases that have left hospitals across Arkansas overrun with seriously ill patients, the UA System Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to require masks indoors on all system campuses.
The resolution, which became effective immediately following Wednesday morning’s vote, requires that masks be worn by both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals while indoors in university facilities, when social distancing can not be maintained. Exceptions include dining areas when individuals are consuming food, private offices and residence hall dorm rooms.
“This updated mask policy reflects ongoing CDC guidelines and is in the best interest of the health and safety of our campus community,” Acting UA Chancellor Bill Kincaid and Provost and Interim Chancellor Charles Robinson said in an email to the UA community Wednesday afternoon.
The new policy comes five days after a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the April state law which prohibited government entities from issuing mask mandates. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said in multiple television appearances last week that he regretted signing the law, had called a special session of the State Legislature in which he attempted to convince lawmakers to alter the rule. The legislators adjourned the session without acting on Friday.
Judge Tim Fox ruled later that day that the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated between private and public school students and infringed on the powers of the governor, county officials and the Arkansas Supreme Court. The law had been challenged in two lawsuits, including one brought by the Little Rock and Marion school districts. Children under 12 can not receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.
Arkansas currently ranks fourth in the nation in the seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every county in the state is rated as having a high level of community transmission.
As the highly contagious delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 ravages the state, hospitals in Arkansas have become filled to capacity with patients. On Monday there were only eight ICU beds available in the state, for either COVID-19 or other intensive care patients, Hutchinson said in a tweet.
Today’s report shows some very startling numbers. We saw the largest single-day increase in hospitalizations and have eclipsed our previous high of COVID hospitalizations. There are currently only eight ICU beds available in the state. Vaccinations reduce hospitalizations. pic.twitter.com/zoEvn4XCXo— Gov. Asa Hutchinson (@AsaHutchinson) August 9, 2021
Statewide, total active cases (confirmed and probable) rose to 24,215 Wednesday, an increase of 838 in a day and 3,656 in a week, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Hospitalizations rose to 1,446, up by 11 in a day and 214 in a week. Statewide, 296 patients were on ventilators Tuesday, an increase of two from Tuesday and 36 from Aug. 4.
The ADH reported 20 new deaths from confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. The additional deaths bring the toll in Arkansas to 6,366, up 136 in a week.
Total cumulative cases increased by 2,940 Wednesday, for a total of 410,832, according to the ADH. That number rose by 16,371 in a week.
State health officials had administered just under 2.47 million vaccine doses to Arkansans by Wednesday, according to the ADH, with nearly 345,000 people partially immunized and over 1.1 million people fully immunized. Approximately 11,300 new doses were administered between Tuesday and Wednesday, with over 71,000 administered in a week.
Just over 1.1 million Arkansans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing about 36.6% of the state’s total population. About 50.3% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated nationwide, according to the CDC.
About 80.5% of Arkansas’ vaccine supply — nearly 3.07 million doses — had been distributed by Tuesday.
Hutchinson presented a slide at his weekly press briefing Tuesday showing the vaccination status of cases, hospitalizations and deaths since Feb. 1, 2021. Approximately 92% of individuals that contracted the virus since that date were not fully vaccinated, according to the data. Approximately 93% of hospitalizations and 92% of deaths from the virus were people who had not been fully vaccinated.
Washington County reported 2,021 total active cases (confirmed and probable), and 36,088 total cumulative cases Wednesday. Benton County reported 1,732 total active cases and 34,453 total cumulative cases Wednesday, according to the ADH.
Total active cases increased by 205 in a day and 406 in a week in Washington County. In Benton County, active cases rose by 51 in a day and 250 in a week. Total cumulative cases in the two counties increased by 1,317 and 1,235, respectively, in a week.
The most recent update to the UA COVID-19 Dashboard lists figures recorded during the reporting period ending Aug. 2 and the reporting period ending Sunday. In that time, officials confirmed 28 new campus cases of COVID-19, with 26 new recoveries in the same period. There were 21 active cases on campus Sunday.
Of the 28 new cases, 12 were identified through on-campus testing, and 16 were self-reported.
Of the 41,090 recorded tests performed on campus since Aug. 10, 2020, a total of 1,446 have been positive, for a cumulative positivity rate of 3.5%. There was a 5.8% positivity rate for the week of Aug. 2-8.
Erica Wilson contributed to this report.