Medical centers are expanding bed capacity as hospitalizations continue to increase.
More than three percent of the state’s population has an active case of COVID-19. The Arkansas Department of Health reported 101,141 active cases today, setting a record for the second day in a row.
Hospitalizations set a record for the fourth day in a row with ADH reporting an all-time high of 1,658 hospitalizations. Hospitalizations have been steadily increasing since Christmas and have put a strain on the state’s medical system. Baptist Health, for example, reported a record 333 patients are being treated for COVID-19 at its hospitals. Ninety-five patients are in the Intensive Care Unit and 52 of those are on ventilators.
“I worry that the general public doesn’t think that COVID’s a threat to them, that the Omicron variant is not a threat, but people get very very sick,” Baptist Health board president Greg Crain said. “The majority of those in critical care are not vaccinated. Clearly the vaccines provide protection. Please consider protecting yourself and protecting your family.”
To meet the growing need for hospital beds, the Arkansas Legislature supported the governor’s request to use $50 million to expand hospital capacity. Roughly 40 additional ICU beds and 130 medical beds have been opened statewide, with plans to bring even more online in the future.
To meet the growing need for testing, the state ordered 1.5 million rapid tests and began distributing the free kits last week. There is a limit of one kit — which contains two tests — per person per day, or three kits per family per day. ADH has created this interactive map so Arkansans can find a distribution site in their community. Approximately 370,000 tests are still available at Local Health Units across the state and local libraries likely have some tests remaining as well, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during today’s press conference.
“This has helped us maximize our hospital staff so they’re not having to devote as much time to testing,” Hutchinson said. “It gives more people an alternative to a PCR test, it gives them quicker information.”
Arkansans can also request free at-home tests from the federal government. Earlier this week, the Biden administration launched a website where families can order tests to be delivered to their door. There is a limit of four per household. The White House launched a hotline today as an alternative to ordering the tests online. The number to call is 800-232-0233.
Health officials are hopeful Arkansas is reaching its peak in this latest surge. Among the 19 to 24 year-old age group — the first to see an uptick in infections — cases are beginning to trend downward. Health officials project the state will see a decrease in cases overall next week, but Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said this does not mean Arkansas is out of the woods, and a significant number of people are still likely to be infected.
“While this may be a less severe infection on an individual basis, on a societal basis this is a severe outbreak of disease,” Romero said. “It is taxing our health care systems.”
The number of Arkansans 18 and younger that are fully vaccinated lags behind the national average. Vaccines, which are useful in combating severe disease and hospitalization, are available and easily accessible, Romero said. More information about COVID-19 vaccines are available on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website.