Hutchinson provides contact tracing update

(11/24/20) Hutchinson provides update on contact tracing; hospitalizations reach another record high

The following statistics were shared at the governor’s weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday, Nov. 24, and posted on the Arkansas Department of Health’s (ADH) website:

  • 148,312 total cases, up 2,122 from Monday.
  • 17,057 total active cases, up 330 from Monday.
  • 128,831 recoveries, up 1,772 from Monday.
  • 2,405 total deaths, up 18 from Monday.
  • 988 cases requiring hospitalization, up 14 from Monday.
  • 160 cases requiring a ventilator, down four from Monday. 
  • 3,579 cumulative cases in Garland County, up 72 from Monday.
  • 432 active cases in Garland County, up 14 from Monday.
  • 3,042 recoveries in Garland County, up 57 from Monday.
  • 104 deaths in Garland County, no change from Monday.

In the past 24 hours, the number of positive PCR tests added in Arkansas was 1,421, with 1,363 from the community and 58 from correctional facilities. There were 701 positive antigen results from a total of 4,571 antigen tests in the past 24 hours. The number of PCR tests completed in the past 24 hours was 10,359. 

Hutchinson gave an update on ADH’s current case investigation status. With the spike in new cases, there has been a bottlenecking of contact tracing cases resulting in an increase in the time from entry into the ADH system until case investigation started. It has gone from 25 hours on the week of Oct. 5 to 68 hours on the week of Nov. 16. Beginning on Nov. 19, “due to the substantial increase in daily cases and the inability to recruit additional nurses for case investigations,” contact investigations began to also be assigned to contact tracing staff, as opposed to only ADH or vendor nurses, who had handled all investigations since the beginning of the pandemic. Due to similar “clogs in the system” from increasing cases across all of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new recommendations on case investigations and contact tracing. These provide for prioritization of case investigations to focus resources on cases diagnosed within the past six days and those living, working or visiting congregate living facilities or high-density workplaces. Hutchinson said that although ADH will follow these guidelines, even cases that are delayed in getting in the system beyond the six days will still be completed, just at a lower priority and by a non-nurse contact tracer. He encouraged Arkansans to “answer the call” from contact tracers, and provided the following possible phone numbers from which contact tracing calls might come: 877-272-6819 (877-ARCOV19), 833-283-2019 (833-CVD-2019) or 501-686-5875.

Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero reminded the public that though we are “coming up on an important holiday…, we are in the middle of a pandemic.” His recommendations, so that case numbers do not go up in the coming weeks and threaten overwhelming our healthcare system: “Avoid travel. Stay home. Have a nuclear, that is a nuclear family Thanksgiving. If you are going to have your Thanksgiving at home, try to do it outside where there is air circulation. Keep your contacts brief…Watch your distance; that 6-foot interval between you is very important. That helps cut down on transmission. And wear your mask. Wear your mask at all times during your get together, except for when you’re eating food…I know that this holiday is very important, it’s part of our culture, but it’s also very important that we do this in a safer manner than we have in the past. We don’t want to see these numbers increase after the holidays. We’ll have hospitalizations and deaths, because that is a very grave possibility today.”

On a positive note, Romero commented on the three current vaccines that are in or nearing the final stages of approval. He said that states will receive shipments of vaccines shortly after they are approved, which may be in December, but the quantity of vaccines will not be adequate for everyone in the state until the second or third quarter of 2021. He also shared that there is a second COVID-19 treatment of monoclonal antibodies approved for outpatient use, of which the state has approximately 1,200 doses. 

Troy Wells, CEO of the Baptist Health System, provided a snapshot of hospital capacity, particularly among his system, saying that “most hospitals around the state are very busy right now, both taking care of the usual patients that we care for, but also many taking care of high numbers of COVID-19 patients.” As of this morning in Baptist Health, they are caring for 199 COVID-positive patients, which is just under 20% of their in-patient count. Among their patients, 60 are in critical care and 47 are on ventilators. He said that critical care beds and staff are scarce resources in Arkansas, “so we watch those numbers closely.” He said that about one-third of critical care capacity at Baptist Health is being used for COVID patients. Baptist Health in Little Rock will be opening an additional critical care unit in Little Rock in January 2021 with 18 additional beds, which includes a plan for additional staff and physicians to care for these additional beds. To healthcare workers in Arkansas, he recognized they are tired and stressed. “We all appreciate what you are doing. They keep showing up every day, and I really appreciate that,” he said.

Secretary of Education Johnny Key provided an update on school instruction modifications due to COVID-19. Last week, there were 41 on-site modifications, which is down from 46 the week before. There are 37 total current modifications and 267 that are inactive. The Arkansas Department of Education has new analysis of data better showing the scope of modifications, and Key said that it revealed that “schools are doing a very good job of targeting their response.” The analysis showed that 67% of modifications were conducted to grades within a school, 29% were the entire district (including weather closures early in the school year) and 4% were schools within districts. Key concluded by echoing Wells’ message of thanking healthcare workers by thanking to school teachers and staff for their continued efforts this school year. 

11-24-20 ADH daily graphic