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Arkansas COVID hospitalizations at two month high, but on vaccine anniversary officials note its impact

Michael Hibblen
Arkansas Department of Health Epidemiologist Megan Delong was among five healthcare workers who were the first in the state to get a COVID vaccination on Dec. 14, 2020.

On the one year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Arkansas, state officials reflected Tuesday on where the state is now compared to then.

While hospitalizations are at a two month high, Gov. Asa Hutchinson noted during his weekly press briefing that the number of people being treated is about half of what it was at this time last year.

“Hospital admissions, that is the most critical measuring stick we can have,” Hutchinson said. “A year ago we had 1,050 [patients statewide]. That’s when I created the Winter COVID Task Force that has been very instrumental in managing those that have been in the hospital needing care. But today we’re [at] 518. Our hospitals are still crowded, but it’s easier to manage 518 than it is 1,050.”

The Department of Health said in its daily report Tuesday that the number of patients increased by eight since Monday.15 additional deaths were reported, with the state total since the pandemic began now at 8,880.

There were 782 new cases of people testing positive for the virus. Hutchinson noted that’s below the previous Tuesday when 932 new cases were reported. The governor said he expects hospitalizations to also go down proportional to the number of new cases. With recoveries outpacing new infections, the number of active cases declined by 65 to 7,323

Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said data shows the vaccines have made a difference.

“From the start of the pandemic to the point where we’re at with our immunizations we have approximately 2,700 less deaths this year. However, if we take into consideration that conservatively 70% to 80% of those deaths could have been prevented if they were vaccinated, we need to get our full population vaccinated.” Romero said.

The first vaccine available in Arkansas was the one made by Pfizer-BioNTech. On Dec. 14, 2020, state Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe and four other health care workers became the first to be administered the vaccine during a press conference at the Department of Health.

But Romero said there are still not enough people in the state who have been vaccinated, which he says is especially concerning heading into the holidays.

“I want to encourage everyone to take the vaccine. It is safe and effective. It is the best way to prevent deaths,” Romero said.

Michael Hibblen is News Director of UA Little Rock Public Radio. A 34-year radio veteran, he oversees the KUAR News staff, plans coverage and edits stories while also reporting and anchoring newscasts.