LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday said President Joe Biden's mandate that many private businesses require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is the wrong approach for boosting vaccination rates.
Hutchinson, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association, compared Biden's order to a push by some conservatives to prohibit private businesses from requiring vaccinations.
“I have been consistent in the freedom of businesses to require their employees to be vaccinated, and I have opposed the government from saying businesses cannot exercise that freedom,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “The same principle should protect the private sector from government overreach that requires them to vaccinate all employees.”
The expansive rules announced Thursday mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.
The rules drew criticism from other Republicans, including a state senator who urged Hutchinson to call a special session in response.
“We must fight back against this massive government overreach," GOP Sen. Trent Garner tweeted.
Some of Arkansas' largest employers already require employees to be vaccinated. Springdale-based Tyson Foods last month announced the requirement for its U.S employees. Bentonville-based Walmart is requiring that all workers at its headquarters as well as its managers who travel within the U.S. be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4.Several hospitals in the state have also announced vaccine requirements for their employees.
Arkansas on Thursday reported 2,481 new coronavirus cases and 27 new deaths from COVID-19. The state's COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped by 15 to 1,194. There are 508 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units around the state and 315 on ventilators. Only 26 ICU beds are available in the state, though it's unclear how many are equipped for COVID-19 patients.
Arkansas ranks 13th in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Also on Tuesday a group of parents challenging the Bentonville School District's face mask requirement dismissed their lawsuit, which had been moved from state to federal court. Travis Story, an attorney for the parents, said he planned to file a new version of the lawsuit in state court this week.
Bentonville is among more than 100 school districts that adopted a mask mandate after a judge blocked the state's law banning such requirements.
The number of active virus cases among the state's public school students and teachers dropped by more than 1,000 since Monday to 3,804, according to figures released Thursday by the Department of Health. The department reported 577 active cases at colleges and universities.
This story has been corrected to show the number of active cases at the state’s public schools is 3,804.