Arkansas Health Secretary Expects COVID-19 Deaths to Increase

Hospitalizations remain high as the CDC has set up a mass testing site in Washington County.

Ventilator monitor and african american female patient in hospital bed

Active cases of COVID-19 are continuing to trend downward with the Arkansas Department of Health reporting nearly 32,200 fewer cases today than this time last week. However, ADH also reported 39 COVID-related deaths, the most reported in a single day this year. 

During the governor’s weekly press conference this afternoon, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said he expects to see a significant number of deaths in the coming week. Although the Omicron variant tends to be a milder disease with milder outcomes, it’s highly transmissible and when hundreds of thousands of people become infected, the result is a larger number of deaths, he explained.

“This is the outcome of this infection in our community, the inability to bring it under control by vaccination or by appropriate use of masking,” Romero said. “So we will see more deaths and significant numbers of deaths in the coming days. This is not over yet.”

Unvaccinated Arkansans account for nearly 84 percent of COVID-related deaths in the state and nearly 83 percent of hospitalizations. COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped slightly to 1,711 today, but that’s only about 100 fewer than the all-time high set last Wednesday. To help expand hospital capacity, Arkansas lawmakers approved a request Friday to use federal funding to help the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences add 27 more beds. 

“I’m grateful for the General Assembly approving the funding for additional hospital beds at UAMS…in addition, we have 10 additional beds that are available through the VA system,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. 

If Arkansans with high risk factors do contract COVID-19, Romero said they should ask their doctor about antiviral medications. While the state has a sufficient number of antivirals, Arkansas does not have a lot of monoclonal antibodies, which have also been used to treat certain COVID-19 patients, he said. 

To increase Arkansans’ access to at-home tests, the state is participating in Project Access COVID Tests (Project ACT), an initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation. The public-private partnership is working to deliver 1.1 million tests to residents in six states, including Arkansas. Each household will receive one free kit with five tests within one to two weeks after ordering.

Free tests are also available by ordering them online through the federal government or by picking them up at distribution centers throughout Arkansas as part of a state-led program. Arkansas officials ordered 1.5 million tests for the state and more than 750,000 were given out during January. 

For Arkansans who want access to PCR testing, the Northwest Arkansas Council has partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to offer a mass COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The site opened today and beginning Feb. 2, the testing site will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week with up to 1,000 PCR tests available each day. 

Tests are free and results can be expected within 48 to 72 hours after testing. The site will be open through Feb. 21 and registration is encouraged.

Although active cases are declining in Arkansas, Romero said vaccination is still “extremely important in continuing to control infection” in the state. More information about COVID-19 vaccines is available on the Arkansas 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.