LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Arkansas, health officials are warning of a third wave that could be the worst one yet.
At this time last year, COVID-19 cases were on the rise, the start of school was pushed back and masks were still required in every building.
“I was super scared about how long this is going to last,” Little Rock boutique employee Elizabeth Byrd said.
Flashforward to 2021, many people in Arkansas, like Carlos Bradford, feel like they’ve made it to the other side.
“Now it seems more relaxed and it’s more focused on the shot,” Bradford said.
Others think there is still work to be done, though.
“We have all these vaccines. We have a lot more tools, Byrd said. “It’s just a matter of getting people to use those tools.”
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said Arkansans are in the third surge of COVID-19 and he expects this one to be the worst.
The challenge, as he sees it, is that the opponent in the fight has changed.
“The delta variant is almost a completely different virus in terms of how people respond to it, in terms of what you read about a year ago,” Patterson explained.
Looking at the numbers, there are more active cases now than at this time last year. Patterson said that while current figures are well below what was seen at the peak of the pandemic, in some ways the current data is even more concerning.
“At that time, with a little bit over 4,000 new cases a day, we had as many patients in the hospital as we do today with 1200 cases, which just demonstrates how severe the delta variant is,” he explained.
Those hospitalized patients are now younger, otherwise healthy people who have not had the vaccine.
“If you felt like you were bulletproof a year ago, your bulletproof armor is no longer effective against the delta variant,” Patterson warned.
He said the only way to get back to normal is for all Arkansans to roll up their sleeve and take the shot.
“If we keep growing at the rate that we’re growing, we’re going to overwhelm the health care system here in Arkansas within the next 14 days,” Patterson predicted.
UAMS officials said they are moving into their surge plan. That means dialing back elective procedures and beginning to think about dialing back clinic visits.