LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- A growing number of Arkansas hospitals said they'll require all staff to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as the state's COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped after hitting new records three days in a row.
CHI St. Vincent and St. Bernards Healthcare System announced they would require employees to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. Baptist Memorial Health Care, which operates NEA Baptist in Jonesboro, said it would also require employees at its hospitals in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi be vaccinated by that date. Conway Regional Health System said its vaccine requirement for staff will take effect Oct. 8.
"Vaccinating against COVID-19 is the single-greatest, most-pressing health initiative in recent years, and we all must do our part," St. Bernards President and CEO Chris Barber said in a release. "Quite simply, our patients should not wonder whether they receive care from an unvaccinated person."
Arkansas' COVID cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks due to the ultra-contagious delta variant and the state's low vaccination rate. The state ranks fourth in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Conway Regional Medical Center also announced that it will postpone elective surgeries and procedures starting Monday because of the surge in cases.
The number of school districts and universities requiring masks continued to grow, following a judge's decision last week to temporarily block Arkansas' ban on mask mandates.
Arkansas State University announced it would require masks be worn indoors where social distancing isn't practical. The move came after the Arkansas State University system's governing board authorized its campuses to require masks.
"We know that indoor face coverings and vaccinations are critical to fighting this pandemic," ASU System President Chuck Welch said.
The University of Arkansas system and the University of Central Arkansas this week also announced they would require masks.
Nearly four dozen school districts and public charter schools have announced they'll require masks since the judge's ruling. They include nearly all of the state's largest school districts. The Little Rock School Board voted Thursday to impose a mandate.
The mask mandate ban was blocked hours after lawmakers rejected Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call to roll back the ban for some schools. Hutchinson, a Republican, has said he regrets signing the ban and agreed with the judge's decision to block it.