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Active COVID cases double statewide

Active COVID-19 cases have doubled since last week, and hospitalizations have increased by 373 in that same amount of time.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson shared those statistics at the opening of his weekly media briefing held Tuesday.

Active cases rose from 32,000 to 64,000 statewide.

Hutchinson announced that $50 million from the American Rescue Plan, approved by the ARPA steering committee, would provide hospitals funding to temporarily increase capacity in response to the rising number of patients.

The proposed plan includes adding 98 COVID ICU beds and 167 COVID medical beds to be funded for 28-45 days based on the recommendations from the Arkansas Department of Health. The hospitals which will receive those beds, according to the governor’s office, are:

St. Bernards Medical Center – Jonesboro

Mercy – Rogers

Conway Regional


SVI – Hot Springs

Washington Regional

Unity Health – White County

Baptist Health – Conway

Baptist Health – Van Buren

Mercy – Fort Smith

Arkansas Children’s

“Omicron is here, it is here and raging across Arkansas, but what we see from the data is this will pass through,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve got to hold the line and make sure we take the actions so we can get through January and February where we expect to see this variant diminish significantly.”

Hutchinson said the schools should continue in-class instruction, and he rejected shelter-in-place recommendations, but stressed that people should be vaccinated and tested.

He also pointed out that a one-day survey conducted Jan. 4, by the Arkansas Department of Health, showed that about 30 percent of patients with COVID-19 in Arkansas hospitals had found out they had the virus because the hospital tests everyone who comes in for any reason, not because they showed symptoms of the virus.

In December the state ordered 1.5 million rapid at-home tests to be available for free to Arkansans. The state has received the first shipment of 211,000 at-home testing kits and is making them available to distribution locations such as public libraries, and public health units. The Arkansas National Guard is assisting in delivery of the tests.

The Department of Health reported 7,756 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and that there had been another 25 deaths due to the virus.

Here are the totals of current active COVID-19 cases in Northeast Arkansas counties:

Craighead – 3,704

Crittenden – 1,584

Greene – 1,228

Mississippi – 1,010

Poinsett – 654

Cross – 361

Randolph – 229

Lawrence – 226

Jackson – 225

Clay – 195

Siblings join JFD on same day

JONESBORO — A spur of the moment decision changed the lives of two brothers.

Andrew Tippitt, 30, decided last year to take the entrance exam for the Jonesboro Fire Department. He told his brother, Jake, 28, about it, and the two decided to take the test at the same time.

After obtaining a civil service exam booklet at city hall and studying for about a week, the two took the test and were accepted by the department.

They started at the department on Dec. 17, 2021.

“I had a friend in the department, and he liked it,” Andrew said.

He said he was working as a DJ and at his father’s pest control company, where he still helps out.

Jake was working nights at a Paragould company.

“I didn’t see much of my family in my old job,” he said, adding that working 24 hours on and getting 48 hours off has helped his situation.

After being accepted by the department, the Paragould natives attended the Arkansas Fire Training Academy in Camden. They spent six weeks training as emergency medical technicians and seven weeks taking firefighter standards training.

As part of the emergency medical training the two learned how to assist with child birth, treating trauma, applying a tourniquet and medical terminology. All graduates of the academy are certified as EMTs.

The two were able to room together at the academy.

As siblings, however, the two remain competitive.

“He scored one point higher on his (entrance) test,” Andrew said.

“He beats me in physical fitness,” Jake responded.

Both have a desire to serve the community.

Andrew said even before becoming a firefighter he would stop at a traffic accident and help out as best he could.

“To get paid to serve is a blessing,” he said. “I now have the knowledge and skills to help people.”

Jake said he was surprised by the trust people give to firefighters.

“It’s amazing how the community put their lives in your hands,” Jake said. “You’re required to be that person.”

“We can’t call 911; we are 911,” Andrew said.

The pair said they serve on different crews, with the department having three crews total.

They said the department has several siblings who serve, as well as a father and son.

“It’s kind of a big deal to be hired at the same time,” Andrew said.

He said the firefighting community is a close-knit group.

While at the academy, their stepfather died, Andrew said, and they were given a week off to take care of family matters.

Fire crews at the department offer activities outside of the department, Andrew said, such as a Christmas party and a Fireman’s Ball. He said it’s like having another family for support.

So far, the pair have enjoyed their brief time in the department.

“I feel like it’s not what I expected, it’s better than I expected,” Andrew said.

Students get hands-on experience with road dept.

Black River Technical College’s Career and Technical Center students in Paragould received hands-on heavy equipment training at the Greene County Road Department recently.

Students learned how to operate a skid steer, excavator, grader, and a front-end loader.

Superintendent Ronnie Barrow and employees Tony Pratt, Ricky Hendrix, and Kenny Long demonstrated how to operate the various types of heavy equipment and then supervised students as they attempted to operate the equipment themselves.

Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon explained to the class that there is a shortage of individuals trained to operate heavy equipment, so there are many career opportunities in that area.

“Students in the Career and Technical programs at BRTC are receiving specialized instruction in their chosen field of study, as well as are able to experience professional and career opportunities in high demand areas, at no cost to them,” Dr. Brad Baine, BRTC Vice President of Academic Affairs said. “We are very proud to offer these opportunities to students.”

Arkansas governor proposes $6B budget for coming year

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday proposed a $6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that includes increases for public schools. services for the developmentally disabled and higher starting salaries for state troopers.

The Republican governor, who leaves office next year year due to term limits, detailed a proposal calling for a 3.3 percent increase, or $194.6 million, in spending.

“This is higher than I prefer, but the needs of our state and our healthy financial position support this increase,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said under the proposal the state is expected to build a $174 million surplus during the fiscal year, adding to the nearly $1 billion surplus the state announced last year. Hutchinson said the surplus “gives us a cushion that is needed in this time of economic fluctuations.”

Hutchinson’s proposal calls for a 3 percent, or $69.6 million, increase in funding for the state’s public school fund. The governor said he’s also requesting $37.6 million to reduce the waitlist for services for the developmentally disabled and $7.6 million to raise entry salaries for state troopers.

The governor laid out the plan weeks after he and the Republican Legislature approved the largest tax cut plan in state history, which will eventually cost the state nearly $500 million a year.

The waiting list for programs for the developmentally disabled had been cited by critics of the tax cut plan of an example of a state program that needed money. There are about 3,200 people on the wait list currently, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Legislative leaders said there were few surprises in Hutchinson’s budget plan, but expected there may be some questions about the overall increase in spending.

“I’m sure there will be some discussion about that and will want to take a closer look at that,” House Speaker Matthew Shepherd said. “But my initial thought was I didn’t see anything that right off the bat I thought would give me or a large part of the membership a big problem.”

The top Democrat in the House said she was encouraged by the additional funding for the developmentally disabled, but said she’s still concerned other programs aren’t seeing enough as the state cuts taxes.

“I still believe we have a lot of needs that haven’t been met yet,” House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough said.

Other increased proposed include $28.5 million in additional funding for public school facilities and $66 million in additional funding for the Department of Human Services, which administers the Medicaid program.

Lawmakers are to convene Feb. 14 for a legislative session focused primarily on the state budget.