▶ Watch Video: Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson says he changed mind on mask law because “facts change”

Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson tweeted on Monday that “there are currently only eight ICU beds available in the state” as the region and the rest of the U.S. grapples with a surge of COVID infections fueled in part by the highly contagious Delta variant.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported on Monday that a total of 1,376 people are hospitalized due to the coronavirus, which surpasses a record high of 1,371 hospitalizations recorded on January 11. State data also shows more than 500 people have been admitted to the ICU and nearly 300 people infected with COVID are on ventilators.

“Today’s report shows some very startling numbers,” the governor tweeted. “We saw the largest single-day increase in hospitalizations and have eclipsed our previous high of COVID hospitalizations.”

Arkansas ranks third in the country for new COVID cases per capita, according to The Associated Press, which cited data from Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new COVID cases each day as every state is reporting high or substantial community transmission.

State data shows about 43% of Arkansans 12 years and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, lower than the national average of nearly 59%, per the CDC.

The startling COVID numbers come after the governor changed his mind about a bill he signed in April to ban mask mandates across the state, saying in an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that, “facts change.” He admitted that signing the bill at a time when COVID cases were low in his state was “an error.”

“Facts change and leaders have to adjust to the new facts that you have and the reality of what you have to deal with,” Hutchinson said. “I realized that we needed to have more options for our local school districts to protect those children. And so I asked the legislature to redo the law that prohibited those requirements or those options for the school districts to protect the children. And so it was an error to sign that law.”  

Children under 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and with the Delta variant on the rise and schools set to reopen in the fall, Hutchinson said he wanted to give school districts the flexibility to decide whether to require masks or not. On Friday, an Arkansas judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the ban after state lawmakers left it in place despite Hutchinson’s call for them to reverse the law.

U.S. averages more than 100,000 new daily COV…


Zoe Poindexter contributed to this report.