Hutchinson requesting $50M in ARPA funds for additional hospital beds

(The Center Square) – Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is asking the state Legislature to allocate $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act for extra beds at 11 hospitals.

Ninety-eight intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients and 167 medical beds for patients would be funded for 28 to 45 days, according to a news release. The additional beds would be added based on recommendations from the Arkansas Department of Health (DOH).

The governor said in a news release Monday the funds have been approved by the Arkansas American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee, which Hutchinson created in 2020 to make recommendations on how to spend $1.57 billion in federal funds coming to the state. The Legislature has the final say.

The state also is spending $10 million for 1.5 million rapid COVID-19 tests that will be delivered free to Arkansas residents. The first 211,000 have arrived in the state and distributions will begin soon at libraries, public health units and other sites with the help of the National Guard, according to the news release.

The funding for the tests is coming from existing money available in the COVID-19 response budget.

Hutchinson's announcement comes on the heels of a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in the state that has decreased in the past two days. The number of new cases reported Monday was 4,747 with 10 additional deaths. On Sunday, 4,308 cases and an additional nine deaths were reported.

The state has more than 61,000 active cases, a record high, according to health officials.

Hutchinson has encouraged Arkansans to get vaccinated as the number of residents fully vaccinated is near 52%, but he said he doesn't support mandates.

Hutchinson told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that some businesses would decide to require employees and others would not "and so they have that freedom."

"This mandate of (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the federal government, needs to be struck down and that's why we're fighting against it," he said, according to CNN. "I expect the Supreme Court, hopefully, to rule against the Biden administration on that oppressive vaccine mandate."

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