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In the center of Little Rock City, the choir reverberated in the room of Willy D’s Rock & Roll Piano Bar, and a group of friends held beer and sang the soul song “Stand By Me” to each other.

However, the capital of Arkansas is far from united and there are serious differences in how to deal with the resurgence of Covid-19. Cases are increasing, hospitals are overcrowded, and health officials are trying to persuade residents of the city and the state to get vaccinated.

The speed of vaccination in various states in the United States is closely related to politics. Republican voters are less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats, just as they are less willing to wear masks or observe social distancing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 35% of people in Arkansas are vaccinated, and only two states—Mississippi and Alabama—have lower vaccination rates. In contrast, 56% of people in New York State, the Democratic home base, have been fully vaccinated.

This is a huge challenge for local health officials in the red states because they are fighting the highly spreading virus. Delta coronavirus variantAccording to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it currently accounts for 83% of the country’s cases.

The public health agency said last week that the United States is experiencing a “The Unvaccinated Epidemic”It is believed that in places with low vaccination rates such as Arkansas, the proportion of Delta cases is even higher.

“I am very worried about the next few weeks and months,” said Jennifer Dillaha, director of immunology medicine at the Arkansas Department of Health. “The Delta variant is spreading in our state. The increase in cases is increasing exponentially. The number of hospitalizations is increasing exponentially.”

The surge in coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm the health system in Arkansas, which serves approximately 3 million people. More than 780 people in the state are currently hospitalized due to Covid, and this number has doubled in the past two weeks.

Dilaha predicted: “If we continue to maintain the same hospitalization rate, we will double the number of hospitalized patients by the beginning of August.” “We will treat 1,300 or more patients, which is what we got last winter. The highest level.”

At Willy D’s, customers must agree to have their luggage searched and slapped by security guards, but no one checks their body temperature and no masks. Kevin Newman, a 31-year-old real estate agent who voted for Donald Trump last November, said he was not vaccinated because he suspects the severity of the virus.

“If Covid is really serious, we have to pay for the vaccine,” Newman said. “Everything else is expensive, why should I give it away for free? This is suspicious.”

Customers of Willy D's Rock & Roll Piano Bar

At Willy D’s Rock & Roll Piano Bar, customers must agree to the security guard’s luggage search and tapping, but no one checks their temperature and no masks © Nikou Asgari/FT

Similar views abound on social networks such as Facebook. The company was accused by President Joe Biden of “killing” last week and allowing vaccine misinformation to spread uncontrollably.

Health officials in Arkansas are trying to reach more people by providing vaccines in shopping malls and churches, while issuing incentives such as free hunting and fishing permits. But so far, their efforts have hardly played any role.

At the Riverside Summer Festival held in North Little Rock on Saturday, the stalls provided free food and toys as well as Covid vaccines. However, within an hour, only four people accepted the jab’s offer.

“Every one we get now is important,” said Barbara McDonald, a nurse at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS), who manages the pop-up site. “A lot of it is fear. If they don’t understand it, then they don’t want it. So education is very important.”

People at the Summer Festival in North Little Rock

At a festival in North Little Rock on Saturday, the stall provided free food, toys and vaccines, but only four people received the injection within an hour ©Nikou Asgari/FT

Some reluctance is ideological, based on the belief that being promoted to vaccinate will impose civil liberties on a person. Others worry that after reading unbelievable theories online, the jab will pose a major risk to their health.

Steven Shaw, a 58-year-old Trump voter, said he read online that the Covid vaccine can change a person’s DNA. “This is my understanding. As far as I know, this is not a real vaccine, so I am skeptical.”

Xiao also criticized cruise ships for requiring vaccinated and unvaccinated people to occupy different areas of the ship, comparing the rules to a carnage. “In terms of separation, this is the same as what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, McDonald has worked 60 to 80 hours a week in her hospital in shifts, noting that many of her patients are now people who refuse to take jabs. “I am depressed inside, but I can’t show it. I just need to talk to people and educate them.”

Line graphs for every 100,000 COVID cases in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, which have lower vaccination rates.Covid cases have been increasing in these three states in recent weeks

Not everyone in Little Rock is against vaccination. Doe’s Eat Place is a country chain restaurant famous for its steaks and hot tamales, with grinning pictures of regular customers, including former U.S. President and Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton. And the staff must wear masks.

Clinton’s popularity in Little Rock has fallen sharply since he left office, but for this restaurant located in a major Republican town, the photos and letters of the former president are proud.

Doe’s waitress Suzie said that in Little Rock and Arkansas, vaccine hesitation is inseparable from politics. “This has become a political issue, and it has hurt a lot of people… Especially the rural areas are very conservative.”

Doe's where to eat

Doe’s Eat Place requires employees to wear masks © Nikou Asgari/FT

Doe's Eat Place regulars photos

The walls of Doe’s Eat Place are decorated with pictures of old customers, including former President Bill Clinton © Nikou Asgari/FT

This injury is translating into higher hospitalization rates across the state. Robert Hopkins, head of general medicine at UAMS, said that one day last week, the facility was “overcrowded” and patients were forced to wait in the emergency room.

Hopkins is also the chairman of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee. He said that patients today are often in their 40s, and in the early stages of the pandemic, people in their 60s or 70s accounted for the majority of hospital admissions.

The deteriorating situation in Arkansas has been replicated in red states across the country. Hospitals in neighboring Missouri have been forced to transfer patients to other institutions and are seeking funding for more beds and staff.

Dillaha of the Arkansas Department of Health said: “Apart from vaccination, I don’t see anything that can reverse the situation.” “So if we can’t significantly increase the vaccination rate, then we will fall into a very difficult decline.”

However, many Republican officials did not encourage people to get vaccinated, but took a different approach. For example, at least eight states with Republican legislatures and governors, including Arkansas, have banned schools and universities from requiring vaccinations or providing proof of vaccination.

In April, Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a bill prohibiting the government from enforcing mask and vaccine regulations and vaccine passports, although he seems to have changed in recent days. Last week, he started a state tour to encourage people to punch.

“It’s as if he regrets it,” said Goldie Davis, a dental assistant, of Hutchinson’s obvious face, adding that her 34-year-old friend died of COVID-19 on Friday. “Her whole family are Trumpists. It’s really sad. Everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated is a Trump supporter. It’s almost a form of brainwashing.”

UAMS nurse MacDonald hopes that those who are hesitant about vaccines will eventually change their minds. “As time goes by, they know that someone has been vaccinated, and they find that they are okay, without a long tail or something, and then they will be vaccinated.”

She added: “You just pray and hope.”

Christine Zhang Data Report

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