The Arkansas Department of Health is issuing temporary emergency licensure to medical residents and nursing students to prepare for an expected strain on the medical system because of COVID-19, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday (March 25).
COVID-19 cases in Arkansas rose from 218 on Tuesday to 280 as of early afternoon on Wednesday. By nightfall, the number had risen to 308. There were two deaths reported Tuesday, but none on Wednesday. As of Wednesday at 1 p.m., there were 69,197 U.S. cases and 1,046 deaths. Globally, there were around 451,355 cases and more than 20,499 deaths.
Gov. Hutchinson said he asked state medical boards to expedite the licensing of healthcare workers by providing temporary licensure. He said the state licensed 100 physicians and more than 300 nurses. He also said nurses and other medical workers impacted by the ban on elective surgeries are being communicated with redirect, where possible, to needed areas.
Arkansas Colleges of Health Education CEO Kyle Parker does not believe expedited licensing will pose a risk to medical providers or patients.
“My guess is that they will have them do very basic health screening. By the first year of their health training … they know how to run lateral lines and conduct medical screenings and those sorts of things,” Parker said. “I would think they [residents] will still be underneath the care of physicians overseeing them.”
ACHE is a private, nonprofit institution on 350 acres at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith. ACHE’s first college, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM), welcomed its inaugural class of 150 osteopathic medical students in August 2017.
Gov. Hutchinson said he is also talking with mayors and those in the healthcare industry about where to bring additional beds online. He said the issue is not about having enough beds, but ensuring beds are available in the areas most needed.
He also said the Arkansas Department of Health will issue a new directive that makes clear the approved size of gatherings in the state. He said recent news reports and phone calls indicate that not all Arkansans are abiding by previous suggested guidelines of social distancing. The governor said he hopes the new directive has the intended effect because he does not want to implement “shelter-in-place” rules, shut down manufacturers or take extreme measures like in other states.
Gov. Hutchinson also reported that around 18,100 jobless claims were filed in Arkansas in the previous two weeks. He said state officials are working to streamline the process, but urged patience among the public.
“I urge those filing claims to be patient … because this volume of claims is unprecedented in our history,” he said.
As to the 280 confirmed cases, 13 are age 18 or younger, 94 are age 65 or older, and 173 are between the ages of 19 and 64, Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said. He said 12 COVID patients are now in the hospital and four are on ventilators.