Arkansas governor says he supports the science behind COVID-19 vaccines, as daily U.S. cases hold above 65,000

Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is considering a presidential run, took a shot at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s call to investigate the COVID-19 vaccines, arguing that “we shouldn’t undermine the science.”

Hutchinson, a Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Arkansas didn’t have vaccine mandates, but that he and other medical experts had sought to educate state residents about why the shots are beneficial. 

DeSantis, a Republican who is also mulling a presidential run, last week called for the Florida Supreme Court to have a grand jury investigate what information was disseminated about the vaccines, including by the drugmakers that developed them. DeSantis had previously encouraged people to get vaccinated but has recently changed his views. 

“We do need to make sure we get the protection, whether it’s a flu shot or whether it’s a COVID vaccine,” Hutchinson said. “Everybody makes their decision, but I’m for the education and the science behind it.”

The comments came as the U.S. is facing an uptick in COVID cases with temperatures dropping and the holiday season well under way. About 65,000 people are testing positive every day, a daily average that’s 26% higher than it was two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. 

The number of people who are dying, hospitalized or being treated in intensive-care units is also increasing. About 400 deaths are being reported in the U.S. every day, a 63% increase over the past 14 days. The higher counts come about two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Other COVID news to know: 

The bivalent boosters do a good job preventing severe disease. New research, published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the new shots are better at reducing the risk of hospitalization than the first round of shots. The bivalent shots, which are designed to equally protect against the original strain of the virus and the BA.4/BA.5 subvariants of omicron, “provide a modest degree of protection against symptomatic infection.” the study found.

Los Angeles is running out of hospital beds. There were only 242 available hospital beds in Los Angeles last week as a result of the recent increase in COVID, flu and RSV cases, along with patients receiving long-delayed elective care, the Los Angeles Times reports. It’s the fewest number of beds available in the county over the past four years. 

China adds two to its COVID death count. Chinese health officials said Monday that two people have died in Beijing, the first COVID-related deaths to be reported since Dec. 4. The country recently began lifting its stringent zero-COVID restrictions amid a surge of cases and widespread protests, according to the Associated Press. China has said that about 5,200 people in the country have died from COVID since the pandemic began.