JONESBORO — After reporting another increase in new virus cases compared to the previous week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday a new goal of vaccinating at least half the state’s population by July 31.

The governor said during his weekly update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that 1,038,556 residents had received at least one of the two needed vaccines to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. To reach his new goal, 467,206 more people will need to receive at least their first shot within the next 90 days.

“This is a big challenge for us,” Hutchinson said, adding that only 34 percent of the total population has been immunized to date. He noted that 50.4 percent of the state’s population received a flu shot in 2020, about 10 percent more than a typical year.

“This is important for us to set this goal, because you want to look at the future for a moment,” Hutchinson said. “And 90 days will put us right at July 31st. We’re probably three weeks out from school starting. Football is starting, and at that point, if we reach that goal 50 percent of the entire Arkansas population will have at least one shot.”

Dr. Jose Romero, the state’s health secretary, said the more infectious foreign variants, 75 percent of which is the U.K variant, has reached 29 counties in Arkansas, including the counties in the northeastern corner.

“As I’ve said before, this variant is highly transmissible and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality,” Romero said. “And it’s probably one of the reasons why they are driving the number of hospitalizations in young individuals, children in particular, in northern states.”

No vaccine has been approved for children under age 16, so Romero said adults need to protect their children by becoming immunized.

Even if the state reaches Hutchinson’s 50 percent goal, Romero acknowledged that won’t reach herd immunity.

“It’s become obvious from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the government, that herd immunity is not an attainable goal at this time,” Romero said. “So, what we want to do is to try to get as many adults as possible to be immunized. Every person that’s fully immunized is one less person in whom the virus can replicate. And that will decrease the number of variants.”

To ramp up vaccinations, the Arkansas Department of Health plans to have pop-up vaccination clinics everywhere imaginable, including high school graduations at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, Arkansas Traveler baseball games, farmers markets and festivals, officials said.

The state reported 296 new virus cases Tuesday, including 174 confirmed through lab testing. The numbers were based on the result of 7,957 tests.

Hospitalizations statewide rose by 20 to 192, and active cases rose to 2,043, compared to 1,939 on Monday. Five deaths increased the statewide death toll to 5,752.

New coronavirus cases increased in Craighead County during April compared to March, according to an analysis of reports from the Arkansas Department of Health. At the same time, some neighboring counties saw reductions.

Craighead County recorded 206 new cases confirmed through lab testing and another 50 cases considered probable positives through quick antigen testing. That compares to 174 and 68, respectively in March. The number of active cases almost doubled during that time, rising from 64 on April 1 to 125 on April 30. The county recorded a total of four deaths during the month.

Greene County saw a reduction in new cases in April – 52 confirmed and 32 probable – compared to 66 and 51, respectively in March. Active cases rose by only five, to 29 during the month, and no deaths were recorded.

New cases also declined in Lawrence County – 20 new confirmed and 16 probable – compared to 43 and nine in March. Active cases rose by 14, with no deaths.

Poinsett County recorded 36 confirmed new cases in April, compared to 28 in March, and eight probable positives, compared to 10 in March. One person reportedly died from COVID-19.

Jackson County’s new caseload dropped remarkably in April, reaching the rare status of zero active cases for three straight days. By April 30, the county had seven active cases. Only six new confirmed and five probable cases were recorded in Jackson County in April, compared to 17 and 19 respectively.

In Mississippi County, confirmed new cases rose from 57 to 67 compared to March, but probable cases dropped from 21 to 12. There was one death.

Randolph, Cross and Clay counties had single-digit declines in new cases in April. Cross County recorded one new death.

The 14-day moving average of percent positivity has also climbed in Northeast Arkansas, compared to the period between March 20 to April 3.

For the 14-day period from April 17 through Saturday, in descending order with last month’s rate in parenthesis: Mississippi, 6.4 percent (3.9 percent); Lawrence, 4.7 percent (0.4 percent); Craighead, 4.3 percent (2.9 percent); Randolph, 3.8 percent (3.1 percent); Clay, 3.9 percent (1.1 percent); Greene, 3.6 percent (2.5 percent); Poinsett, 2.8 percent, (1 percent) Cross, 2.8 percent (2.4 percent).