The number of COVID-19 cases in Ashley County appear to be holding near-steady over the past two weeks, but the county hospital is planning a community vaccination clinic in an effort to push the trend of the virus’s spread solidly into negative territory.

The clinic will happen days after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that anyone 16 or older may receive a vaccination. The governor made the announcement Tuesday, when he also announced that he was lifting the state’s mask mandate.

Ashley County Medical Center will host the vaccination clinic for individuals from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 9 at the hospital’s 1015 Unity Road location in Crossett. 

Those who want a vaccination should call 870-632-7299 to secure an appointment. Vaccinations can also be scheduled online at Vaccines are also available by appointment at Gammel’s Clinic Pharmacy and Walmart Pharmacy in Crossett.

In an effort to convince more residents to get vaccinated, U.S. Sen. John Boozman announced Tuesday he was starting the Shots in Arms tour to highlight and discuss vaccine distribution. 

“I hope every Arkansan who is eligible to receive a vaccine will get one,” Boozman said. “This is important for the health of every resident and the eagerness we all share to return to normal as quickly as possible.” 

The tour will include stops at vaccine distribution sites at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health facilities, retail pharmacies, hospitals, community events and local clinics. The tour, “will include opportunities for Boozman to discuss the challenges and successes local government and health care leaders have experienced during the vaccination push,” a spokesman said.

When discussing lifting the mask mandate Tuesday — which Hutchinson had previously said would happen if the state’s infection rate met certain thresholds — the governor said that hospitals and health care facilities will still require masks, and school districts, businesses and public facilities can also make their own decision about requiring masks of those entering their premisses.

“Please be respectful and mindful that while the mask mandate is lifted, many will continue to wear it and many businesses will continue to require it,” Hutchinson said. “We need to honor those decisions.”

While masking in certain places is no longer required, Secretary of Health Jose Romero said it is still highly recommended if residents want to continue to see the state’s COVID numbers decline.

“The removal of the mask mandate is not a statement that we do not need to mask,” Romero said Tuesday. 

“You need to continue to mask when you leave your home, you need to continue to avoid large gatherings, you need to follow the recommendations of the CDC. Only that way can you keep the numbers low as we’re seeing them.”

As of Tuesday, Ashley County had 18 recorded active cases of COVID-19. The number of deaths associated with the virus since it first appeared in the area stood at 33 for the same time period.

The total number of active cases in Arkansas stood at 1,717 Tuesday, a stark contrast to the high numbers seen in mid-winter and barely a sliver of the 330,186 total cases ever recorded in the state. 

In the nine county Southeastern Arkansas Hospital Association Region, on Monday there were only five patients with COVID-19 admissions, two of whom were in the Intensive Care Unit and one of whom was on a ventilator.

“My optimism grows daily as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continues to decline,” Hutchinson said Friday. 

“We have administered more than a million doses of vaccine to more than 700,000 Arkansans. The goal line is in sight, but this is not the time to slack off. 

“We need to increase the number of people who are getting the vaccine. I encourage you to receive a vaccination as soon as you are eligible. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your family and friends.”

Chicot County had six active cases on Monday, while Bradley County had 15, Deshea had four, Drew had seven, and Union County had nine.

In the southeastern region, approximately 12.4 percent of people have been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, and 13.8 percent have been fully vaccinated.

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