LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that all ICU beds for COVID-19 patients in the state of Arkansas are full, even after efforts over the last few weeks to increase capacity in the state.
Speaking from the capitol on Tuesday, Hutchinson stressed the continued need for Arkansans to get vaccinated to help relieve the stress on the health care system, not that it is at its limits in terms of both facilities and personnel available to treat patients with the virus.
Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero noted that just under 50 percent of the ICU beds in the state have the ability to be used for COVID-19 patients.
The governor and Romero both noted that efforts have been underway in recent weeks to increase the number of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients as well as staffing. Even with those efforts, the surge in cases fueled by the delta variant has kept Arkansas at or near capacity.
Romero stressed the need to continue masking efforts in schools as a way to keep younger people safe since they cannot be vaccinated. He also said those at high risk of contracting the virus should be looking at treatments like monoclonal antibody infusions to keep from needing hospitalizations.
Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key said the state has seen an increase in just under 300 cases in schools since last week. However, Key was optimistic as no district has had to move away from their in-person learning plans due to absences from COVID-19.
Key also announced a new effort to hold vaccine clinics at regional rivalry high school football games around Arkansas as the season kicks off this Friday.
Data shared by the governor showed the impact vaccinations have had in Arkansas, with the state health department reporting that since February 1, 90.75 percent of COVID-19 cases, 92.39 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 90.94 percent of COVID-19 deaths are tied to the unvaccinated.
The data also showed how cases are skewing younger compared to last fall, with the average age in of patients hospitalized with the virus falling from 63.6 years old in November of 2020 to 54.6 years old in August.
Hutchinson and Romero also sounded warnings on the trend of people using veterinary-grade doses of the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19.
Both warned of spikes in reports to poison control centers from this practice and explained that the doses from veterinarians can contain higher concentrations of the medicine that can be toxic to humans, leading to nausea, vomiting and other issues.
When asked about how the full FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine could lead to employers mandating vaccinations, Hutchinson said he would support the move but also would trust business owners to make the call.
He also pushed back against the possibility of trying to act against the new state law that would prevent a vaccine mandate for state employees.
Romero outlined that booster doses of COVID-19 would not start in Arkansas until at least September 20, noting that it would follow the federal guidance of eight months since the second dose of a vaccine.
Hutchinson also provided an update on the possibility of Arkansas housing refuges from Afghanistan at military facilities around the state, saying that at this time it appeared that no one from the volatile country would be relocated to the Natural State.