Record high coronavirus hospitalizations in Arkansas cause concerns

Even with COVID hospitalizations at an all-time high, the Arkansas Hospital Association says the surge is under control.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With new highs in hospitalized COVID-19 patients set on Thursday, the leading trade group says the recent surge is under control but they are closely monitoring trends.

“We feel really confident that hospitals are in a great spot right now,” said Jodiane Tritt, the executive vice president of the Arkansas Hospital Association. 

“We’re in a great spot right now.

The emphasis on their current status comes after the number of patients reached 547, with 243 of them in intensive care units. Tritt calculates a 13 percent increase in patients in the last two weeks. 

The health department says only 98 ICU beds are available, though COVID patients make up about a quarter of all people being treated in those units.

Tritt says the rising caseload is spread across the state, with no one region driving the increase. That helps hospitals hew close to their normal operations and providing support for underserved counties.

“Each of the seven regions has a surge capacity plan, and they talk with one another usually weekly and sometimes more often than that,” Tritt said.

The recent numbers follow a pattern. The summer saw cases climb and then accelerate after July 4th. 

Things moderated heading into Labor Day. Now it’s easy to point to that holiday and say that’s the cause, but state epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha fears there’s more to it than that.

“We in Arkansas have gotten tired of the pandemic and we want to pretend like it’s going to go away when it’s not,” she said. “Not wearing a mask will not make the pandemic go away.”

Dr. Dillaha hopes these new numbers serve as a wake-up call, especially with flu season weeks away.

“I would very much like to see a turnaround within the next week,” Dr. Dillaha said. “That’s going to take some decisions on the part of many members of our communities.”

The hospital association echoes public health officials warnings.

“The truth of the matter is though every Arkansan needs to be very vigilant about handwashing and doing all the things we know can stop the spread of the disease,” Tritt said.