Arkansas has again set a new record for COVID-19 patients on mechanical ventilation. While hospitalizations declined by 45 on Tuesday, the number on ventilators rose by 27 compared to the previous day, bringing the total to 388 people. It’s the second day in a row Arkansas has reached a new high.
The state Department of Health also reported 22 additional deaths, along with 2,626 new cases of people testing positive for the virus. Hospitalizations dropped to 1,212.
531 patients were in intensive care units around the state, with only 19 ICU beds available, though it was unclear how many of those beds were equipped for COVID-19 patients.
During his weekly press conference on the pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state continues working to expand ICU capacity.
“We have, in September, 64 additional ICU beds that are planned to come online, and that will give us some cushion,” Hutchinson said. “But if we do have an increase then, that capacity could be filled up very soon.”
He said the state is “trying to look ahead” and continue efforts to create more ICU space. Dr. Troy Wells, president and CEO of Baptist Health, said additional ICU beds were added last week.
“We completed that expansion on Aug. 25 that created 33 new ICU beds in Arkansas and 124 medical surgical beds. Those ICU beds filled up within 12-to-24 hours of being opened, so that’s how bad those beds were needed,” Wells said.
With Labor Day weekend approaching, the governor and state Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero expressed concern that it could lead to another increase in cases and hospitalizations.
“Every holiday weekend we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve seen a surge in the number of cases,” Romero said.
Officials are also expressing alarm at the growing number of cases involving people under the age of 18. Hutchinson said 30% of active cases now involve children.
“It is a great concern,” Hutchinson said. “It reflects not a lack of care by the schools or lack diligence on even parents’ part, it simply reflects the seriousness of the delta variant and how it is impacting a larger percent of the younger age.”
He noted the variant is drastically different from what the state was experiencing a year ago. “Today is a different world with the delta,” Hutchinson said.
Romero added to the governor’s concern, noting that Arkansas Children’s Hospital is the only facility in the state currently treating those under 18.
“When we have more cases, we are going to have more individuals, unfortunately, that are going to develop a more serious disease. Those are the ones that are going to be taxing our critical care structure for children,” Romero said, “As you know, we have a single children’s hospital in the state. If we exhaust the critical care beds in that group, we will be in a serious situation.”
Most Arkansas school districts started the new academic year last week. But, Education Secretary Johnny Key says many students are simply unaccounted for.
“They’re not registered, they’ve not shown up for the school year. This is something that is very important, so parents, caregivers, family members out there, if you have not contacted your school district about coming to school this year, that is something your schools are reaching out to you [about],” Key said.
“Please respond to them. Please make arrangements. Please make contact with your school administration as soon as you can.”