COVID-19 cases are on the decline in the region, and more people than ever are eligible for vaccines.

Ashley County’s number of active cases of the virus that has killed more than 536,000 Americans in the last year has fallen to 21. The number of Ashley County deaths associated with the virus stood at 33 on March 22, marking a week without change.

In the nine county Southeastern Arkansas hospital region, nine COVID patients are currently admitted to a hospital, but none of them require ventilators. 

The Arkansas Department of Health’s statistics show that approximately 22 percent of people 16 and older in the region have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 11 percent are fully vaccinated. While that’s some distance from the state’s goal of 70 percent vaccination to achieve herd immunity, that means that now more than one-in-10 people in the region are fully vaccinated, and more than two-in-10 are at least partially vaccinated.

As part of that plan, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last week that he was opening the state vaccination eligibility to people in cohort 1C, which covers more than a million Arkansans.

“Not everybody in 1B has been vaccinated but it is important to move to 1C so we can open up more and keep the demand coming for the vaccine to make sure there is not any gap and give everyone the best opportunity to get the vaccine,” Hutchinson said.

In encouraging people to get the vaccine, State Health Secretary Jose Romero said Tuesday that people in rural areas have been reluctant to receive them but the vaccines are safe and effective.

“Please, we need you to accept the vaccine,” Romero said. “We are going to have more and more vaccines over the coming weeks. Let’s get our vaccines.”

With the opening of group 1C, people who are now eligible for the vaccine include:

People aged 16 to 64 with health conditions that increase their risk for severe COVID-19; Essential workers in energy, finance; food service, Information Technology and communications, the legal field, media, public health and human services, public safety, shelter and housing, transportation and logistic; as well as people residing in high-risk settings including those who are incarcerated or detained, those living in group homes, congregate settings, or crowded housing, and student housing such as dorms and Greek housing.

Looking at the decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, the Chicot Memorial Medical Center chief executive officer told the Chicot County Quorum Court on March 16 that Chicot County has not had a Covid patient admitted in the hospital in over 30 days. CEO John Heard said the state numbers are lower as well. 

“We only have 249 people (across the state) in the hospital, down from 1,400 since December, and  that is magic and that’s all I can say,” he said.

Additionally, he said there has only been one flu death in the State of Arkansas. 

He attributed the lower Covid and flu numbers to a combination of mask usage, people being more aware about hand washing, social distancing, vaccines and the recent snow storm forcing people to stay home.  

“I have to follow the science because I am a scientist by nature,” he said. “So something is working.”

CMMC also had less than half of Emergency Room volume that it typically has for the month of February. 

Heard said that the snow also contributed to that because people weren’t traveling or leaving home. 

Heard also spoke on mask mandates across the state and said he believed the governor would lift some of the guidelines, but not all. 

“I do believe he is going to lift mask (requirements) in the state, but I do not think he is going to lift them for hospitals, health care clinics and places of that nature,” Heard said.