LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Arkansas is being proactive in terms of the threat posed by the omicron variant of COVID-19 while also pushing back on CDC data during his weekly news briefing Tuesday.

Hutchinson stressed the urgency of the state’s preparedness for the emergence of the new variant but added that he doesn’t think the CDC data showing omicron in 92% of the infections in region including Arkansas is actually reflective of the spread in the Natural State.

The governor said it is clear omicron is Arkansas and spreading rapidly, noting that with the upcoming holiday, Arkansans should make sure they’re fully vaccinated to protect their family, especially the younger age groups who aren’t yet eligible for vaccines.

Hutchinson pointed out that the biggest current risk for Arkansas is its placement in the bottom 10 of states in terms of vaccination rate.

The governor pleaded with Arkansans to get vaccinated, again citing the information from the Arkansas Department of Health showing that the vast majorities of cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus since February are among the state’s unvaccinated population.

Hutchinson also shared data from the ADH showing the state has 955 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, which pushed the pandemic total to 545,037. This daily increase is up considerably from the same day a week earlier, with the 25–44-year-old age group being the most affected.

The state’s active case count climbed by 253 to 7,571. The ADH data also showed 15 more deaths, bringing the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 to 8,997 total.

On a positive note, the new data did show a drop in the number of patients hospitalized due to the virus in Arkansas, which declined by 17 to 496. Three more patients went on ventilators in the last 24 hours, pushing that number to 96.

Hutchinson warned that 49% of the state’s population is not fully vaccinated, saying that leaves a lot of room for the omicron variant to work. As of Tuesday, 1,490,961 Arkansans were fully vaccinated, with another 344.178 being partially vaccinated.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero pointed out that the third dose of the vaccines will help prevent hospitalization, with the governor saying 47% of the 11,983 vaccinations given Monday were booster shots.

Hutchinson shared a snapshot of how zero Arkansans with their booster shot had been hospitalized between November 1 and December 6, saying hospitalizations for the unvaccinated with increase as the variant spreads.

The governor said he has no plan for reinstating a public emergency and that stopping businesses is completely off the table.

Hutchinson and Romero also praised Col. Robert Ator’s work coordinating vaccine distribution for the ADH, thanking him for his efforts before Ator returns to his job at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

In other news

Hutchinson took time to talk about the ARHOME approval, which he says will improve the state’s health outcomes. The governor shared a snapshot of how the program’s continuation will provide health coverage for more than 300,000 low-income Arkansans.

The state submitted the tornado damage estimates to FEMA Monday. Hutchinson says he’s confident Arkansas will qualify for federal assistance as we’ve already given out over $3 million for temporary housing.