Governor's Weekly Update: Hospitals 'strained'

(1/5/21) Governor’s weekly COVID update: Hospitals ‘stressed’ and ‘strained’

The following statistics were shared at the governor’s weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday, Jan. 5, and posted on the Arkansas Department of Health’s (ADH) website:

  • 238,888 total cases, up 4,107 from Monday.
  • 24,408 total active cases, up 1,351 from Monday.
  • 3,836 total deaths, up 36 from Monday.
  • 1,323 cases requiring hospitalization, up 27 from Monday.
  • 224 cases requiring a ventilator, up 12 from Monday. 
  • 6,233 cumulative cases in Garland County, up 229 from Monday.
  • 797 active cases in Garland County, up 134 from Monday.
  • 5,272 recoveries in Garland County, up 80 from Monday.
  • 162 deaths in Garland County, up five from Monday.

In the past 24 hours, the number of positive PCR tests added in Arkansas was 2,275, with 2,261 from the community and 14 from correctional facilities. There were 1,832 positive antigen results from a total of 3,552 antigen tests in the past 24 hours. The number of PCR tests received in the past 24 hours was 5,224. 

Hutchinson said there was a productive meeting today of the Winter COVID-19 Task Force, and he invited UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson to provide and update on hospitalizations. 

“We are stressed, we are strained, but the system is not breaking at the present moment,” he said on behalf of UAMS and the other healthcare administration leaders across the state. He said we need to be careful of how the finite resources are managed, and that “we need to continue to do everything we can as a state to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19 while we wait for the effects of the vaccine to impact us in a positive manner.” All the hospitals in the state are feeling the impact, and Central Arkansas hospitals in particular were “in a very tough moment last week,” he said. UAMS nearly went to Surge Phase 2, which includes double-occupancy of rooms and increase the expansion of the emergency department. North Central and North East regions are now “feeling the brunt of the impact.” All hospitals have surge plans that can be utilized as needed to expand capacities, and he said he does not foresee a critical moment occurring in the next two to three weeks. “I do anticipate, though, that the strain on the healthcare system will continue to increase on a week-by-week basis as the number of cases continues to increase,” he said.  

Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero noted that it is a record day for active cases, hospitalizations and ventilator use is increasing. “We still have capacities in these areas, but if we don’t guard them carefully, we will exceed the capacity that we do have,” he said of the “surge on top of a surge” the state is in at the moment. “This can be slowed down. It cannot be completely stopped at this point. But it is up to each citizen to adhere to this. This is not, this is not an exaggeration. The numbers are as they are.”  

Hutchinson provided an update on the ADH COVID-19 Vaccination Phased Plan. He said the state is currently in Phase 1-A, which includes high-priority healthcare workers, long-term care facilities and other high-priority groups (i.e., primary care, urgent care, K-12 and higher education health providers, dental clinics, first responders, pharmacies, home health, hospice, corrections and blood donation centers). There are approximately 180,000 Arkansans in Phase 1-A. To date, there have been 134,425 doses delivered to hospitals and long-term care facilities, of which 37,884 have been administered, or 28.2%. Additionally, there have been 1,324 doses administered at long-term care facilities by CVS and Walgreens. The total number of vaccine doses in this category delivered so far totals 24,700, meaning 5.4% have been administered. Hutchinson added that the data is delayed up to three days to allow those administering the vaccines more time for inoculations. 

Hutchinson said they are following the CDC recommended guidelines except in two areas: first responders were moved into 1-A (on the original CDC recommendation) and the minimum age was reduced from 75 to 70 for those to be in Phase 1-B. The 1-B category also will include frontline essential workers (i.e., teachers/school staff, food/agricultural workers, firefighters/police not in 1-A, manufacturing, grocery stores, public transit, childcare, U.S. Postal Service and essential government workers). Not counting essential workers, there are approximately 400,000 individuals that fall into Phase 1-B, and Hutchinson said they have set a significant goal to complete this phase in 60 days. He said they hope to begin 1-B on Feb. 1, and pharmacies and hospitals will be utilized for injecting the vaccinations, as well as local health units. Phase 1-C is even a larger scope of the population and includes those 65-69, those between the ages of 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions and essential workers not covered in Phase 1-B. 

He said this is a private-sector-led effort that is coordinated and directed by the state. By Jan. 15, the governor said the plan of carrying out the vaccination to a broader portion of the population will be posted online.

Secretary of Education Johnny Key said that this week marks the return to school across the state, and that many questions are coming in about COVID emergency leave. The CARES Act provided $15 million for school employees who test positive or have to quarantine for themselves or dependent family members, but those funds have been depleted. The Arkansas Department of Education is encouraging districts to consider continuing flexible leave options, as “it has been an important part of our success across the state.” Districts can use local funds or federal funds from the more than $500 million from the latest stimulus act that is being distributed to schools.  1-5-21 ADH daily graphic