LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas on Wednesday reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases in more than a month and two more deaths from the illness caused by the virus.

The Department of Health said the state's virus cases rose by 352 to 334,061 total since the pandemic began. COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas now total 5,708.

The increase was the biggest since the state reported 396 new cases on March 16. The state's active virus cases, meaning ones that don't include people who have died or recovered, increased by 139 to 1,943. The state's COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped by two to 175.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the increase in cases “a serious reminder of the importance to get vaccinated," and urged Arkansans to schedule appointments if they hadn't been immunized yet.

“It is also a reminder that the virus is still here along with the more contagious variants," Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. “Our best defense is the vaccine."

The department said an additional 20,706 doses of the coronavirus vaccine were administered. More than 650,000 people in the state have been fully immunized, while about 331,000 have been partially immunized.

The Senate on Wednesday also sent Hutchinson legislation that will prevent state and local governments from requiring someone to get a coronavirus vaccination

The measure, which the Senate approved on a 21-8 vote, allows state-owned or controlled medical facilities to impose such a requirement if they receive approval from the Legislative Council.

The bill also allows the governor to request the council suspend the law, or just for students and school staff. The legislation expires within two years.

“We hope and want people to get vaccinated. We just don't think it's appropriate that the government mandate that people get the vaccine," Republican Sen. Breanne Davis, a sponsor of the bill, said before the vote.

Davis said the measure would allow agencies or schools to offer incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated. It also would not prevent private entities from requiring vaccinations.

Hutchinson's office said he had not reviewed the bill.

Lawmakers approved the bill a day after advancing a measure preventing government mask mandates, and another banning private or government mandated proof of vaccination to access services.


This story has been corrected to show the vaccination bill’s sponsor is Breanne Davis.