Active cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas surpass 64,000, 25 additional deaths reported
About 30% of the COVID-related hospitalizations in Arkansas Jan. 4 involved patients who had checked into the hospital for other reasons and incidentally tested positive for the disease, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a press conference otherwise filled with ominous numbers Tuesday.
A one-day survey was conducted on Jan. 4 at Hutchinson’s request. The governor said hospitals must take precautions once they discover a patient has been infected with the virus, regardless of the symptoms they display.
“It is appropriate to count that, but it’s also important for everyone to understand that distinction,” he said.
Hutchinson said active cases have doubled in the last week, from 32,000 to more than 64,735, while hospitalizations have increased by 373 in that time, to 1,148. Pediatric hospitalizations have reached 50 for the month, compared to 41 for the entirety of last month.
In response to the omicron-related surge, the state has ordered 1.5 million rapid in-home tests distributed to public access points. The state has received 211,000 tests so far, with another 393,000 coming maybe that night. The governor said the Garland County Library expects to reach 1,000 distributed by the end of the day.
The locations with available free at-home tests are mapped at the Department of Health’s website at this link.
In addition, the governor’s American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee Monday (Jan. 10) approved $50 million to open 265 hospital beds. Legislators will take action on that approval.
The governor said the experiences of other countries would indicate the omicron variant will spread quickly and then fall.
“What we see from the data internationally and nationally is that this will pass through, and so we are anxious for that to happen,” he said. “But we’ve got to hold the line. We’ve got to make sure we take the action so we can get through January into February where we expect to see this variant diminish significantly, just like it has in other countries.”
However, he said schools should continue to provide in-classroom instruction for their educational needs, mental health, and need for stability. He said people with unvaccinated children cannot be told to shelter in place. He said they are needed in the workplace, including in health care facilities.
“Thirdly, you can’t stop living,” he said. “You can’t be calling for suspension of public interactions. That’s not where we are in our society today, and it’s not what we need to do to get through this.”
The governor was asked about a photo published on social media after a Bentonville basketball game Jan. 7 featuring him with players and fans, with none of them, including him, wearing masks.
“Listen, I was very happy with that moment,” he said. “That was at my grandson’s basketball game, and this is where we need some grace. We shouldn’t be in the judging business here.”
He noted that the Bentonville School District is prohibited by a court decision from having a mask mandate.
“Of course, a picture is a 30-second moment in time as well,” he said. “So I was proud of that moment, and that’s just an example of where we don’t stop living because this is here, but as everyone knows, you get vaccinated, and you take the precautions that the circumstances dictated, and I believe we did that night.”
The governor reported 7,756 new cases since the previous day and 25 new COVID-related deaths, for a total of 9,358. Hospitalizations increased by 80 to 1,148, and the number of patients using ventilators increased by 16 to 163. A total of 30,389 Arkansans have been hospitalized with COVID.
Vaccinations increased by 7,815 doses, with 923 additional Arkansans partially immunized and 1,649 fully immunized, for a total of 1,509,843 fully immunized. The governor attributed the low number of vaccinations since the previous day to the public’s perception that the omicron virus is not as worrisome as the previous delta variant.
The governor said 85.9% of the COVID patients in Arkansas hospitals since Feb. 1 were not vaccinated, and 84.7% of the deaths occurred among unvaccinated individuals.
Broken down by age group, the governor said that 43.4% of Arkansans ages 65 and older are fully boosted, while 31.7% are fully vaccinated but not boosted. Among Arkansans ages 12-18, however, 3.6% are boosted and 41% are fully vaccinated.
The seven-day rolling average of positive polymerase chain reaction tests in Arkansas was above 30%.
Secretary of Health Jose Romero said deaths typically occur approximately 21 days after a spike begins. He expects to see death rates to increase as a result of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found children with COVID are at increased risk of developing diabetes mellitis and require insulin, Romero said. He said further study is needed but two studies have shown it to be so, and data has already shown it to be so in adults.
He said individuals who test negative should test again a day or two later to ensure they haven’t become positive and should wear a mask until then. He encouraged individuals to wear masks in public.
Also in the news conference, Secretary of Education Johnny Key said probable close contacts to COVID cases must be removed from school campuses and quarantined, but they do not have to be reported to the Health Department, which Key said is a labor-intensive process.
Districts with universal mask requirements can forego identifying probable close contacts with the exception of high transmissibility settings like unmasked athletic activities.
Key said another 300,000 high-filtration masks are expected to arrive Thursday and will be distributed to school districts. The masks are being manufactured by The Masketeers in Mountain Home.
He said most of the Little Rock School District is returning to in-person instruction.
Hutchinson said schools are facing staffing challenges. He encouraged retired teachers and people interested in being substitute teachers to make themselves available.