Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he sent a letter to President Joe Biden and the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for help with recovery efforts from tornadoes that blew through the state earlier this month.
Three-hundred and seventy-five homes were damaged or destroyed and damage estimates are about $3 million, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said he is confident the state will reach the $5 million threshold to qualify for federal funds and expects an answer by Christmas.
Arkansas was one of several states affected by the storms with Kentucky getting the brunt of the tornadoes. The latest death toll from the Bluegrass State stands at 76. Biden announced last week that Kentucky’s recovery efforts would be covered 100% for 30 days.
Hutchinson also addressed the latest on the COVID-19 omicron variant, which accounts for 72% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report from the CDC showed the variant accounted for 92% of all cases in a region that includes Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana.
"The 92% is for the region and not particularly directed to Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “It is a projection of the region based on the latest surveillance of data. Regardless, if the current estimate is precise it is clear that Omicron is in our state, it is spreading rapidly, and it will define our prevention efforts for the coming months."
Biden is expected to announce new measures to fight COVID-19 on Tuesday that include more testing and resources.
Sixty-two percent of Arkansans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 51% are considered fully vaccinated, Hutchinson said. Only 14% have received a booster dose.
“That means omicron has plenty of room among the non-vaccinated and the partially vaccinated to do its work and for the unvaccinated hospitalizations will increase,” the governor said. “So we want to increase our vaccinations, our booster shots so that come January we don’t run into a hospital shortage, staffing shortages and that we are able to make sure that we have adequate coverage for those that are sick because of this.”
Hutchinson said the “good news” is that “we are at the beginning of the omicron variant in Arkansas so we should have a good Christmas with adequate hospital space.”