Rep. Dr. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood, and medical director for Fort Smith EMS and Southwest EMS, said because area residents have practiced social distancing Fort Smith has been able to control the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
“You have sacrificed a lot to control this. We cannot say it has disappeared, but it has not flourished in our area,” Johnson said at Friday’s (April 17) press conference on the city of Fort Smith COVID-19 response.
Over the past month, 22 people have tested positive for the virus in testing facilities run by Mercy-Fort Smith and Baptist Health- Fort Smith, Johnson said, noting that some of these patients live in counties other than Crawford or Sebastian.
The Arkansas Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard shows 11 positive cases in Sebastian County, with eight recoveries, and four in Crawford County with two recoveries. Johnson said there were two new positive tests in the Fort Smith area Friday morning and three patients in Fort Smith hospitals, though none of those patients require ventilators.
The ADH site shows only 75 tests being given in Crawford County and 99 in Sebastian County for a total of 174 in the Fort Smith area. Craighead County, which is similar in size to Sebastian County, had given 442 tests, 40 of which were positive, according to the website. That county shows one death and 21 recoveries.
Johnson said April 3, 268 tests had been administered in the area in a two week-period. Friday, he said the Fort Smith area testing sites have administered 1,000 tests in the past month. Because the ADH only shows tests processed through its facility and area testing sites are sending many of their tests to outside laboratories, the ADH numbers of tests administered are not accurate, Johnson said.
He said the Fort Smith area is testing patients it deems in need of a test, which is giving leaders an idea of the size of the problem in area. The problem facing Fort Smith now is that people in need of emergency help may not be getting that because of fear of going to the hospital, Johnson said.
Dr. Nasser Adjei, a cardiologist with Baptist Health-Fort Smith, said he fears that when the pandemic ends, there will be lots of bodies in homes where the patient suffered a stroke or heart attack but was afraid to go to the hospital for treatment.
“Do not worry about staying at home and away from the hospital. Call 911 if you are having (signs of a heart attack or stroke). The hospitals are open. We are seeing patients. Patients with COVID are not going to be in the emergency room with you,” Adjei said.
He stressed the importance of seeking medical attention with any signs of stroke or heart attack, including chest discomfort, shortness of breath, numbness along one side of the body, confusion, dizziness or difficulty speaking. He also said diabetics who are not exercising because of the pandemic are more at risk of heart attack and stroke.
Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said city parks and trails remain open to the public in order to give residents a safe place to walk and exercise. City park playground equipment and Fort Smith Public School playground equipment is closed to the public until further notice because the virus can live on the surface, but parks and trails are open for use as long as residents remember to keep six-feet apart from those who are not members of their immediate household.
“We have had to take down some equipment in order to discourage congregating in groups of more than 10, like basketball goals,” Geffken said.
Those leading the press conference seemed confident activities could return to normal sooner rather than later if precautions were adhered to for now.
“If we keep doing what we are supposed to be doing, hopefully by summertime, we will be able to enjoy the things we want to be enjoying,” said Fort Smith Mayor George McGill.