COVID-19 ICU Beds Full in Arkansas

A new UAMS report forecasts 50,000 new cases by Aug. 30.

Health Secretary Dr. José Romero standing behind a podium
Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. José Romero provides an update on the pandemic Aug. 19, 2021.

Arkansas hospitals had no ICU beds available for COVID-19 patients as of this morning. Gov. Asa Hutchinson made the announcement during his weekly press briefing today. COVID-19 patients account for nearly half of the state’s total ICU beds. There are still ICU beds available for non-COVID patients, but officials did not provide an exact count. 

Baptist Health recently opened additional bed space and Unity Health in Searcy is working to do the same. The additional beds have provided some relief, but more steps may need to be taken as cases continue to surge, Hutchinson said.

“This is something we’ve got to handle within our state and obviously we’ll take additional steps if some of those ICU beds are not freed up very shortly or we can’t bring some online,” he said.

This level of COVID-19 hospitalizations is unprecedented. The state did not experience this level during a surge in January and it demonstrates there is ongoing infection that is significant and severe, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said.

“It points that the way out of this problem at this point is vaccination,” Romero said. “Without it, we’re going to continue to exceed the number of beds we make available.”  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 for individuals 16 years of age and older on Monday. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 are increasing at record rates in Arkansas, according to a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College report released this morning. The model predicts 50,000 new cases between Aug. 15 and Aug. 30 with children 17 and younger accounting for more than 10,000 cases.

“If our forecasts hold true, Arkansas will cross the 7,000 COVID-19 death threshold before the end of August,” UAMS College of Public Health Dean Mark Williams said. “If that is the case, COVID-19 will have killed more Arkansans than all the wars in the 20th and 21st centuries combined.”

As many districts begin the second week of the school year, there has been an increase in the number of cases among students and staff. The total has increased by just under 300 between Monday’s report and last week’s report, which Education Secretary Johnny Key said is not unexpected. 

The Arkansas Department of Education is launching a new phase of its “Stop the Hesitation, Get the Vaccination” campaign in which it will partner with ADH the Arkansas Activities Association to provide vaccine clinics at upcoming rivalry football games across the state. 

“We hope that now, especially with the approval of the Pfizer vaccine from the FDA, that the acceptance in those situations will be greater,” Key said. “We look forward to providing other additional information for those folks who need to get a little more confidence built up, a little more information so that they can move forward.”

More information about vaccinations in Arkansas is available on the Department of Health’s website.  

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.