LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – During a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson shared his concerns over the growing number of pediatric COVID-19 cases in Arkansas fueled by the delta variant, as well as the stress on the state’s health care system, even as hospital work to increase the capacity for ICU patients fighting the virus.
The governor stressed that the delta variant has changed how Arkansans are being affected in this pandemic, with patients being hospitalized from the coronavirus now being younger and the cases being more severe.
Data shared by Hutchinson showed that pediatric cases went from almost non-existent to now 30 percent of the state’s total.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero added that these cases are increasing at an increasing rate but can be slowed through getting more vaccinations for those eligible and following social distancing and masking guidelines for younger residents who cannot get a vaccine dose.
Romero also said he was concerned with the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend, noting that the state had seen spikes in cases following other long holiday weekends during the pandemic as people gather in large groups.
Baptist Health CEO Troy Wells noted that his hospitals have been among the many working to increase COVID patient capacity across the state, especially for patients requiring intensive care. Wells said 33 new ICU beds were added as Phase 1 of the expansion but were filled within 12 to 24 hours.
He went on to say that his company’s facility in North Little Rock just added 12 more ICU beds and that the hospitals in Fort Smith and Conway were looking to each add eight more COVID-19 ICU beds.
Wells explained the focus is on bringing in staff from outside of Arkansas, especially nurses and respiratory therapists. He also outlined the steps they were taking with health care staffing companies to focus on making hires from out of state to keep from putting stress on other Arkansas hospitals.
Hutchinson said the state was spending nearly $300 million to shore up staffing and facility needs for dealing with the surging COVID-19 caseload. He hoped these efforts would bring as many as 64 new COVID-19 ICU beds online in September in an attempt to keep Arkansas “ahead of the curve” in terms of patient need.
The figures shared by the governor show a jump of 2,626 new cases Tuesday, increasing the state’s total case count to 452.891. Active cases dropped slightly to 22,422.
Hospitalizations dropped by 45 cases to 1,212 but there was a jump of 27 patients requiring ventilators, moving the current tally to 388, a new pandemic record.
Arkansas also saw 22 new deaths added in the latest figures, bringing the total to 6,934 state residents who have lost their lives to the virus.
There were 13,642 doses of COVID-19 vaccines given in the last day. The state added 7,871 people to the fully immunized rolls, moving that number to 1,218,992. An additional 338,077 people have been partially vaccinated.
- Education Secretary Johnny Key said the state would continue vaccination clinics at regional rivalry high school football games. Key also said additional shipments of masks were being sent out to schools around the state after Labor Day.
- The governor defended the work of the Department of Human Services on distributing federal funding for housing to renters across the state after Arkansas was criticized by some US House Democrats on being slow getting money out to the public.
Hutchinson noted that there are 8,000 cases pending in the system under review where renters have requested funds but landlords have not filed their part of the requests. He said DHS staff are working to make sure that the requests are valid and said this process had these protections in place to prevent fraud.
- Romero weighed in on the controversy surrounding a doctor’s decision to treat inmates at the Washington County jail with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. He said the drug was not recommended for COVID-19 treatment but that it could be administered if agreed to by a physician and patient.
- Romero stressed that the treatment most people should be looking for to deal with the virus is monoclonal antibodies, which should be the first choice of treatment.
- The governor said he did not believe the season-opening Arkansas Razorback football game scheduled for Saturday would not be a concern for becoming a super-spreader event, noting the university has taken many precautions and that the event being outdoors added safety.