All intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients in Arkansas are full, with those people making up roughly half of all ICU patients in the state. That’s according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said in his weekly coronavirus briefing Tuesday the state’s hospital capacity is at its lowest point since the pandemic began.
Speaking with reporters at the state Capitol, Hutchinson said hospitals are trying to find more bed space and staff.
“Everybody should know the strain on our hospitals and the need to get our vaccinations, and how critical our bed space is," Hutchinson said. "It fluctuates day by day, but right now because of the increased number of COVID patients that need that type of ICU care, those beds are full right now.”
Hutchinson said the average age of hospitalized coronavirus patients in Arkansas has fallen to about 55, down from about 64 last November.
Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero said the state will continue to run out of hospital space for COVID-19 patients unless more Arkansans get vaccinated.
“It clearly shows that we have ongoing infection, that infection is significant and severe. It points at the way out of this problem at this point is vaccination. Without it, we’re going to continue to exceed the number of beds we make available. So each time we make beds available, they will become filled,” Romero said.
Hutchinson said he anticipates COVID-19 booster shots will be available in the state by Sept. 20 for those who have gone eight months since receiving their second vaccine dose. Booster shots are already available in Arkansas for certain immunocompromised individuals.
Hutchinson said he supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s formal approval Monday of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, but said he does not anticipate a change in the state’s law banning vaccine mandates. He also called on the FDA to release guidance for children under 12 seeking to get vaccinated.
Romero responded to new projections from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences that predict the state will see its biggest rise in hospitalizations in people under 17 years of age.
“This is not something new to us," Romero said, "that is one of the reasons why children should use masks in school. We recommend vaccinating those individuals 12 and older to protect them.”
Education Secretary Johnny Key said about 300 public school students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, though no schools have had to pivot to all-virtual instruction.
Romero also announced the state Health Department will issue an advisory warning people not to take the drug ivermectin, which is commonly used to treat livestock, as a potential cure for COVID-19.
“What we’re seeing across the south, not just our state, is that veterinary-grade ivermectin is being taken by humans, and we’re seeing increased numbers of cases both in adults and in children that are being reported to a poison control center.”