Phase 1-B distribution of vaccines to stop the coronavirus began Monday in Arkansas.

This round of vaccinations includes people age 70 and older, as well as teachers and other education workers, including K-12, daycare and higher education.

Public school employees do not have to make appointments for their vaccines. Mass clinics are being planned and those employees will be notified when they can get vaccinated either through their school or the dispensing authority.

Those who are 70 or older, or who are daycare workers, should contact a local pharmacy to schedule an appointment, but only independent local pharmacies are dispensing the vaccine.

The three pharmacies approved to administer the vaccine in Jackson County all have Newport addresses: Darling Pharmacy, 1303 McLain St, phone 870-523-5888; iCareRx Pharmacy, phone 870-523-5555; Norman and Baker Pharmacy, 2200 Malcolm Ave., phone 870-523-9472.

The vaccines are administered at no cost to the patient. Pharmacies are reimbursed for the administrative costs of providing the service.

The first phase of vaccinations were distributed to health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, as well as EMS personnel, law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Others expected to be eligible for vaccines later in this phase will include food and agricultural workers, firefighters and law enforcement that were not included in 1-A, manufacturing workers, grocery store employees, public transportation workers, and essential workers in government.

When it is time to implement Phase 1-C, it is scheduled to include people at least 65 years of age, and people age 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions. It also will include transportation and logistics workers, waste and wastewater employees, food-service workers, shelter and housing employees, and those in finance, IT and communications employees, media, public safety, and public health workers.

The Arkansas Department of Health reports that new cases of the coronavirus declined by 25 percent last week statewide.

However, Dr. Jose Romero, the state’s health secretary, said a new virus strain is on the horizon that could bring another spike in infections.

Mutations are rapidly popping up. One was first identified in the United Kingdom and quickly became dominant in parts of England. It has now been reported in at least 30 countries, including 10 American states, Romero said Tuesday during Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s weekly news conference on the virus.

While no cases of the U.K. strain have been confirmed in Arkansas, Romero said eight specimens have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.

“The virus will eventually get here, it’s just a matter of time,” Romero said. “What the CDC predicts is that by March, this virus will be the predominant virus in the United States.”

While it’s no more fatal than the original strain, Romero said it’s up to 70 percent easier to spread to other people.

“But that doesn’t mean that we can’t prevent it,” Romero said. “We can prevent it by using the ‘Three Ws,’ which you have heard me say over and over again: Wear your mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.”

Romero also said it was important to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

The state reported 841 new cases confirmed through laboratory testing and 490 through portable antigen testing for a total of 1,331 on Tuesday. There was a total of 3,209 new cases on Jan. 12 and 4,107 on Jan. 5.

Hutchinson said the new cases are distributed throughout the state.

“Our new cases are still significantly high, even though they’re less than they were two weeks ago,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going to continue to have challenges until our vaccination is permeating our society and population here in Arkansas.”

There were 43 deaths recorded Tuesday, including two in Jackson County. That raised the cumulative total to 4,386 in Arkansas and more than 400,000 nationwide.

Statewide, 1,265 were hospitalized because of the virus, an increase of two. The number of those treated in intensive care units dropped by 14 to 394, and 209 were on ventilators, down seven.

In Northeast Arkansas, 180 were hospitalized, which is down two; 31 were in ICUs, down five, and 14 were on ventilators, a reduction of five.

Here is a breakdown of Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Tuesday:

Jackson – 2,359 confirmed (up 1), 650 probable (up 3); 61 active cases (down 14); 21 confirmed deaths , 8 probable (up 2).

Craighead – 10,224 confirmed (up 37 from Monday); 1,388 probable (up 5); 675 active cases (down 59); 138 confirmed deaths, 16 probable.

Greene – 4,120 confirmed (up 11), 1,020 probable (up 5); 323 active (down 24); 50 confirmed deaths, 10 probable.

Lawrence – 1,499 confirmed (up 5), 317 probable (unchanged); 82 active (down 10); 37 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

Poinsett – 2,449 confirmed (up 12), 313 probable (up 4); 198 active (down 3); 55 confirmed deaths, 15 probable.

Mississippi – 4,437 confirmed (up 13), 476 probable (up 2); 197 active cases (down 24); 86 confirmed deaths, 15 probable.

Randolph – 1,357 confirmed (up 1), 380 probable (unchanged); 104 active cases (down 21); 32 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

Cross – 1,365 confirmed (up 4), 350 probable (up 2); 136 active cases (down 6); 39 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

Clay – 1,141 confirmed (up 2), 345 probable (down 3); 86 active cases (down 3; 29 confirmed deaths, 10 probable.

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