LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In his 200th press briefing since the pandemic began in Arkansas and on a day in which 36 more COVID-19 deaths were reported, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday clarified his opposition to President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates, saying mandates on businesses will “increase vaccine hesitancy.”
President Biden on Sept. 9 unveiled a plan the White House hopes will result in more vaccinations to combat the summer surge in cases and deaths resulting from the Delta variant of COVID.
Most opposition to the mandate, especially from Republicans, is with a proposal to require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is working to draft the vaccine mandate rules.
Hutchinson presented five points about his position on vaccine mandates:
-I support the authority of the states to require vaccines in the educational environment and in other environments based upon the needs of the state.
-I support the freedom of businesses to mandate vaccines in the workplace and this freedom should not be prohibited by the state.
-I recognize the authority of the federal government to require vaccines of military and federal employees.
-I do not support the strategy of a broad federal mandate for businesses with over 100 employees to require all employees to be vaccinated. This is not consistent with historical use of federal authority in public health matters. It is counter-productive and will increase vaccine hesitancy.
-I continue to advocate for every eligible person to be vaccinated.
When asked about a possible legal challenge from Arkansas to President Biden’s employer mandate, Hutchinson said that will likely come from state attorneys general. He said OSHA has yet to issue details on the mandate, so he is not yet sure of the “right strategy” to legally challenge the mandate.
Also on Tuesday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 1,544 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 477,191. Active cases fell by 737 to 17,084, and reported deaths rose by 36 to 7,334.
Hospitalizations declined by 16 to 1,097, and COVID patients on ventilators fell by five to 281. Hutchinson again noted during the briefing that deaths reported each day are rarely all from the previous 24 hours because of the process required to verify deaths, record death certificates, and other factors.
On a positive note, Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero reported that treatment of COVID patients with monoclonal antibodies – mass-produced antibodies designed to recognize and help the immune system defeat the COVID virus – has risen from 14 units in late June to 2,630 units in September.
Romero said timely treatment with the antibodies shows a 70% to 85% reduction in hospitalizations.