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Resurgence in new COVID cases, hospitalizations concerns UAMS physician

Michael Hibblen
Dr. Robert Hopkins, seen here at a UAMS drive-thru COVID-19 testing location on July 23, 2020, said Friday he is concerned about the growing number of new infections which will likely lead to a further resurgence in hospitalizations.

This week, Arkansas reported the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 surpassed 100 for the first time in about two months.

While the number of patients declined by eight on Friday to 97, a physician who has helped lead the response to the pandemic at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences says the number of new infections suggests there will be more people needing treatment in the immediate future.

“Anytime you see increases in cases we expect to see an increase in hospitalizations,” said Dr. Robert Hopkins, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at UAMS.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 712 new cases on Friday, which was the largest since March 21 when there were 781 cases. The second-highest increase was on Thursday, when 635 cases were reported.

In an interview with KUAR News, Hopkins said there are likely significantly more people suffering from COVID-19 than authorities are aware of because more people are taking at-home tests and not sharing positive results.

“I can near guarantee that cases are higher. I have personally, and in talking with my colleagues, had more patients call to be assessed regarding antiviral treatments, Pavlova or others, and I’m certain our cases are higher than we know of because testing [at hospitals and other facilities] is far less than it was at this time last year.”

Statewide, hospitalizations are well below the 1,711 reported on Feb. 1, but Hopkins said there are concerns because this is a time of year when people often need emergency treatment at hospitals for an array of other conditions.

“Unfortunately lots of people getting in accidents in one way, shape or fashion or another, so lots of that in the hospital,” Hopkins said. “We’ve now got some COVID cases in the hospital in addition to the other things… infections related to diabetes, pneumonia, all those other things, but the hospital is not nearly as full as it has been earlier in COVID.”

With the latest subvariant being easily transmissible, relatively few people wearing masks and only about 60% of eligible adults being fully vaccinated, he expects there will be continued spread of the virus.

But Hopkins says there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of the pandemic. He notes a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is continuing to evaluate an additional COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s made very similar to vaccines we’ve used for decades against hepatitis B in the United States. That’s going to give us another vaccine option hopefully that some people might take. We also should have a meeting of the FDA advisory committee about evaluating the COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 here in the next couple of weeks,” Hopkins said. “If we can get those children vaccinated and protected that will also help us with our COVID-19 status.”

In the meantime, he advises people who haven’t been fully vaccinated to do so while demand is low. He also advises people who will be in indoor settings with others to wear masks.

“I don’t want to take a chance on people having severe illness, and equally important, I don’t want to take a chance on people having long-lasting symptoms following COVID because we don’t have a good way yet to predict who’s going to get lasting symptoms and who’s not,” Hopkins said.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio.
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