Gov. Asa Hutchinson will not seek another extension of the public health emergency he declared 14 months ago when the state saw its first confirmed case of Covid-19. The executive emergency order will expire May 30, the governor announced Thursday at a news conference.
“It is important to understand that we are still in a pandemic,” he said. “The fact that I am ending the declaration of public health emergency does not change the fact 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 does not change the fact that we need to continue to get vaccinations out. We can do this in terms of a long-term maintenance effort and it is not necessary to have the long-term emergency declaration to carry out this public health responsibility.
“The public health concerns remain, and everyone in Arkansas needs to continue to take the virus seriously and to act accordingly,” he said. “The fact that I’m ending the public health emergency should not diminish anyone’s intensity on the need to get a vaccination, or the need to protect from the virus that is still remaining in parts of our communities.”
Hutchinson also announced a $6.4 million ad campaign to encourage the public to get vaccinations. Another $2 million campaign will target minority groups. Hutchinson presented two ads at his news conference. One ad features former NBA and Razorback basketball player Sidney Moncrief encouraging Arkansans to get vaccinated. The other ad features several restaurateurs across the state that he referred to as “influencers” encouraging people in their communities to get vaccinated.
In addition to the ad campaigns, Hutchinson said the state is offering $100 bonuses to executive branch agency employees who have received at least one dose of the vaccine by July 1. The cost of the bonuses would be $3.2 million if 70 percent of the 25,772 employees get a shot. Hutchinson said the cost will be absorbed by the agencies in their regular budget but he plans to get the cost reimbursed with American Rescue Plan funds.
“The reason we are doing this is because we want employees to be vaccinated, we want them to be safe in the workplace, but just as importantly, our state workers in many instances are providing an environment for the public to come in and do business and we want the public to know that… we are doing everything we can to make it safe.., he said.”
Hutchinson said if there is a “resurge of Covid-19 in the fall,” and emergency measures are needed, he has the option of renewing the emergency order. “But I’m hopeful that we won’t be there,” he said.