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Public servants discuss private business mandate

Cleburne County Sheriff Chris Brown and Cleburne County Judge Jerry Holmes have both released statements that the county has no intention to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for county employees.

Holmes’ statement Monday was:

“Even though my time in office is short, Cleburne County has no intention of mandating our employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or show weekly proof of a negative test. I feel that should be a decision makes on their own or after consultation with their physician.”

In a social media post Friday, Brown wrote a longer statement:

“Since March of 2020, we have seen much controversy over COVID, mandates, restrictions, lockdowns, vaccines, and a number of other things. We have watched as this topic has divided families, friends, and coworkers. We have seen an unprecedented amount of division, hate, and contention among Americans. With the rollout of the COVID vaccines, that division has become more and more widened, and the vitriol more intense between those who believe in the vaccines, those who don’t, and those who are undecided.”

“As law enforcement officers, our first duty and what we swear an oath to, is to support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Arkansas. It is in that defense and the defense of individual liberty that the Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office has not, and will not mandate the COVID vaccine for any of our employees. Just like with the flu shot, their choice to get vaccinated or not is theirs and theirs alone, and we respect their decisions.”

“I am not pro-vaccine, and I am not anti-vaccine. I am pro-freedom, and I am for each person’s ability and responsibility to decide for themselves (in conjunction with their doctor) whether or not to get the vaccine.”

“I am appalled at some of the absolute dictator-like things we are seeing from the Federal Government, and several of the State Governments. It is absolute tyranny, and completely abhorrent. It flies in the face of everything our country has always stood for, and is only furthering the damage and division done to the people of this wonderful nation.”

“C.S. Lewis said this: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

“It’s time for our politicians and other public servants to stand up and remember that their first responsibility is to protect people’s rights, not to run their lives.”

The post received some 62,000 reactions, 11,000 comments, 172,000 shares.

President Joe Biden announced last week private businesses require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Gov. Asa Hutchinson was quick to issue a response. 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.”

According to the Associated Press, the mandate would make businesses with 100 or more employees require those workers 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.

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.

Scenes from the Fair

Troopers to use 'low profile' vehicles to target aggressive, distracted drivers

A dangerous and escalating trend in the number of aggressive driving violations on the state’s highways has Arkansas State Troopers turning to an improved tool to curb the deadly threats, the state police announced Tuesday.

Twenty-five new low profile highway patrol vehicles have been acquired by the Arkansas State Police to bolster the attack against incidents of aggressive and distracted driving. The black Chevrolet Tahoes are partially marked with the state police insignia visible only from the passenger side, but fully equipped to conduct traffic stops.

“Putting state troopers in non-conventional patrol vehicles to blend unnoticed in traffic is nothing new; we’ve been doing it more than 20 years,” Col. Bill Bryant, director of the Arkansas State Police, said. “What’s new today is the use of a taller vehicle platform like the Tahoe that will offer troopers an improved visual perspective to detect drivers violating distracted driving laws or spotting a vehicle being driven in an aggressive manner that threatens other motorist’s safety.”

In 2020 there were 641 Arkansas deaths resulting from motor vehicle crashes, a 27 percent increase over the previous year. The number of highway crash deaths has already surpassed 400 this year.

Col. Bryant testified before a General Assembly sub-committee earlier this summer that Arkansas has not escaped a national epidemic of lawlessness on the nation’s highways.

He told the legislators, “... law-abiding Arkansas motorists are finding themselves confronted with new threats on the highways and more frequently than ever before.”

Last year Arkansas troopers stopped 2,030 drivers who were traveling at 100 miles per hour, or faster, an increase of more than 100 percent from 2019 among violators exceeding the 100 miles per hour speed.

The three-digit speed violations in 2021 have already surpassed all last year with troopers issuing 2,381 tickets to violators between January and June this year for speeds between 100-160 miles per hour.

As of August, state troopers have issued 52,593 citations for various speeding and dangerous or aggressive driving type violations.

The anomaly of faster speeding violations has been compounded by a brazen spike in incidences of drivers refusing to stop when state troopers attempt to initiate traffic stops.

Over the past five years troopers in Arkansas have documented a 98 percent increase in pursuits involving drivers who chose to flee rather than pull over for the initial violation. In the metropolitan Little Rock/central Arkansas area, pursuits were up 170 percent since 2016.

Col. Bryant told legislators: “When a driver makes the conscious choice to flee from law enforcement they increase their speed, drive erratically, weave in and out of traffic, passing other vehicles on the highway shoulder; they’re putting innocent lives at risk for no reason other than they refuse stop for the initial traffic violation.”

The danger on Arkansas highways is not just limited to speeding violations and aggressive driving but also incidents of gunfire directed at vehicles and occupants. The state police Criminal Investigation Division has 21 open cases currently under investigation with at least two of the cases involving the deaths of three people.

Distracted driving violations continue to pose a danger for motorists on state highways with troopers already issuing more than 800 citations this year.

Using a phone or other device to send text messages or post social media comments while driving is one of the leading causes of distracted driving, and is a violation of Arkansas law.

“Statistically, teenage drivers are the most common violators, but middle age adults aren’t far behind,” Major Forrest Marks, commander of the state police Highway Patrol Division, Western Region, said.

Troopers assigned to the low profile patrols will additionally be watching for drivers who illegally use the left lane of a multi-lane highway. Arkansas law was amended this year to prohibit drivers from using the left lane of a multi-lane highway except when passing other traffic. Presently troopers are issuing warnings to violators while drivers acclimate themselves to the change. In the coming days troopers will transition to strict enforcement of the new law and begin issuing citations.

“Every highway patrol troop will have the low profile marked Tahoes and we hope the use of the special patrol vehicles throughout the state will be a deterrent to the growing threat caused by drivers who choose to ignore the law and safety of others,” Major Jason Aaron, commander of the Highway Patrol Division, Eastern Region, said. “If a trooper can stop just one of these dangerous drivers before killing an innocent motorist, the new tool we have in our patrol fleet will have been worth it.”

The recognizable white sedan with blue stripes and state police markings will continue to be the mainstay of the ASP highway patrol fleet with aerial observation from two aircraft flying in support over the highways.

The low profile vehicles will be assigned to each of the 12 highway patrol troops across the state. The new low profile patrol vehicles and law enforcement equipment installed in the vehicles were purchased with federal grant money totaling $1.15 million provided by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

Hammerhead worms, an invasive species of terrestrial flatworms, have been confirmed in at least 10 counties in Arkansas. While gardeners who discover them should not hesitate to kill them, experts with the Division of Agriculture caution against cutting them with a trowel – the worms can reproduce by fragmentation, and this will only double your problems.

Judge Jerry Holmes received a service award after quorum court Thursday.

Flu shots offered

Thanks to mask wearing and social distancing efforts, incidences of flu were minimal in 2020. However, experts are concerned we may not be that lucky in 2021. As healthcare providers prepare to see more flu cases this season, Sherwood Urgent Care centers are ready with the flu vaccine.

There is a possibility we may be entering a flu season with a higher level of susceptibility than usual, according to Matt Browning, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Sherwood Urgent Care centers.

“With mask mandates and social distancing now less prevalent, there still is the possibility of contracting both flu and COVID-19,” Browning explained.

“Also, in a normal season when a person recovers from a seasonal influenza infection, they retain some level of immunity that protects them in the future for a period of time,” Browning said.

“Because there was little flu virus activity last season, adult immunity (especially among those who were not vaccinated last season), will now depend on exposure to viruses two or more seasons earlier.”

Sherwood Urgent Care centers in Batesville, as well as locations in Conway, Hot Springs, Lonoke, Maumelle, Quitman, Russellville, and Searcy now offer the 2021-2022 flu vaccination for the influenza A strains (H3N2 and H1N1), and influenza B strains (Victoria and Yamagata).

Fluzone Standard Dose Quadrivalent: For ages 6 months and older. (First-time flu shot patients up to age 9 may require two separate doses one month apart.)

Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent: For ages 65 and older.

“Although a flu vaccination is not a guarantee you won’t get the flu, the vaccine has been shown to reduce the severity if you do catch flu, thus reducing the risk of hospitalization and even death,” Browning said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September and October are the best times to get vaccinated to obtain immunity throughout flu season. “Also important to remember is that it takes two weeks after your shot to achieve full benefit.”

The vaccination is covered by most insurance plans at no cost to the patient. Also, flu vaccines are generally free for anyone with Medicare Part B, employer health insurance or other insurance that conforms to the Affordable Care Act, as well as for many Medicaid beneficiaries.

For patients without these forms of insurance, the cost is $30 for the Fluzone Standard Dose Quadrivalent and $75 for the Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent.

It’s important to know that because flu and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms, testing for both illnesses may be necessary, depending on symptoms. Flu shots are available on a walk-in basis, seven days a week, at any Sherwood Urgent Care center.

Oak flagging sign of rough condtions, not seasonal change

The year 2021 has been tough on a lot of species, and Arkansas’ oaks are no exception, with leaves that have turned brown, look scorched and seemed to flag overnight.

“Over the past several weeks we have seen an increase in calls from our agents, landowners, and foresters regarding the rapid browning of oak trees, particularly post oak,” said Kyle Cunningham, extension and research forester for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Cunningham said there were concerns that the rapid decline might be from the fatal oak disease “oak wilt,” a fungal infection that’s serious threat to Arkansas forests.

“There is a phenomenon referred to as ‘oak decline.’ Often, the damage appears sudden but actually has been taking place for a period of time,” he said.

“However, our forest health experts are finding that the culprit could be the erratic weather patterns we have experienced this year and in recent years that cause cumulative effects on oak species,” he said. Underlying causes may include various leaf and branch diseases and insects.

Oak wilt has been found in northern Arkansas and remains a significant concern for all landowners, Cunningham said. “The oak decline event we seem to be experiencing this year will likely be temporary. Our oak forests are rugged and resilient, and capable of defending against injury when properly managed.”