This time last year, I knew COVID-19 was a serious threat, but I was confident if we pulled together as a state and nation, then we could over time defeat the virus.
Now we seem to have rounded the bend with the development of three effective vaccines. I am thankful to see the dramatic decline in the number of deaths, the number of new and active COVID-19 cases, and the number of those in a hospital. I’m also grateful that more than 250,000 Arkansans have recovered.
The pandemic isn’t over, but I am hopeful that the worst of it has passed. To be cautious, we have extended the emergency declaration for Arkansas for sixty more days. I have lifted the mask mandate, but businesses still may require employees and customers to mask up, and I encourage you to respect others. Arkansans have responded well to our vaccination program, but we need even more of you to get a vaccination. That is our path out of the pandemic.
Today, I’d like to share the story of 23-year-old Maleek Caton, one of the many Arkansans who has survived COVID-19.
Maleek had just started his senior year at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge when he tested positive for COVID on Labor Day weekend. He was a member of Williams’ wrestling team and was ranked 7th nationally in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. He had spent the summer of 2019 working construction and was in the best condition of his life. He went home to North Little Rock on Tuesday after Labor Day, and by Wednesday, he was in intensive care on one-hundred-percent oxygen. He felt as if he had glue in his lungs when he breathed. He refused the doctors’ recommendation to go on a ventilator. He was in the hospital for a week and a half and went home with oxygen. In that short time, he had lost the bulk and strength he had added over the summer. Doctors told his mother, Glenda, that Maleek came as close to dying as possible without actually dying.
Maleek returned to school in November to finish the semester and resume training. In January and February, he won most of his matches and tournaments on his way to the national tournament in Park City, Kansas, where he won three matches and lost three to finish in eighth place.
Although he didn’t win the tournament, Maleek did enjoy a sweet moment on the mat in Kansas.
His opponent was Ethan Bunch, a wrestler who had beaten him in each of their three previous college matches. But in their fourth meeting, which was his last match of the tournament as well as the last match of his career, Maleek beat Ethan seventeen-to-nothing.
Maleek’s story is miraculous, and so is the story of every person who recovered. And as spring arrives, I ask everyone over 16 to get their vaccination. This is how we turn spring into a wonderful summer and fall.