On a day when Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced relaxed rules for nursing home visitations, the head of the state’s leading medical research and training institution predicted an alarming rise in COVID-19 infections and called for more substantive rules on wearing masks and social distancing.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Dr. Cam Patterson said Wednesday he was “very concerned” about the capacity of the healthcare system to respond to the rising number of COVID-19 cases. In his address to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, he predicted peak infections of 150,000 on Sept. 30.
“We believe we have the assets across the state to address the surge of that magnitude,” Patterson said according to a report from KATV, a content partner with Talk Business & Politics. “But we do not expect patients will be evenly distributed across the state.”
Patterson also said the state may need more substantive rules related to wearing faces masks and social distancing.
In a follow-up interview with Talk Business & Politics, Patterson said there are conversations taking place among hospitals across the state to cooperate in the sharing of resources should one region need equipment and personnel to help with a wave.
“We are making sure that there’s coordination among the hospitals so that the medical assets and the patients are in the right places in the right time so we can treat them optimally,” he said. “We are right now talking to the hospitals in Northwest Arkansas about how we can potentially supplement their staffing needs. It’s a conversation that’s collegial and both sides are receptive to it.”
The UAMS Chancellor also said his organization is working with schools of higher education to ensure appropriate protocols are in place for testing, screening and contact tracing when students return to campuses this fall.
“We’ve never been in this situation where we have an event like this happening,” he said, emphasizing that maintaining safe social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing masks are critical to containing the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to get the message through,” said Patterson. “I’m not a politician. I don’t know how we get people to do that, but it’s bad medicine not to be doing that right now.”
Modeling recently prepared and presented by UAMS shows that new COVID-19 cases in Arkansas could reach around 1,350 per day by Sept. 27, with around 3,100 hospitalizations by October. Models as of June 17 from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington estimate 1,838 new cases per day in Arkansas by Oct. 1.
The number of known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas during the past 30 days has increased 168%, from 5,082 on May 17 to 13,606 on June 17.
“We talk fairly regularly about this, about hospital capacity primarily. We feel comfortable where we are in our capacity. I talk with Northwest Arkansas, which is the pressure point now, and I talk regularly to the hospitals there, and we monitor that. … We’ve stated our position, we’ve got our guidelines out there. We are advocating masks every day, and ask the Arkansas citizens to do that, particularly whenever you cannot social distance,” the governor said when asked about Patterson’s comments.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 13,606 on Wednesday, up from 13,191 on Tuesday. Of the 415 new cases, 35 were from correctional facilities. The number of active cases are 4,313, with 676 in correctional facilities. The number of deaths rose from 188 to 197. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 217 on Wednesday, up from 214 on Tuesday. There are 53 patients on ventilators, up from 48 on Tuesday. The number of Arkansans recovered is 8,996.
As of Wednesday at 1 p.m., there were 2,148,357 U.S. cases and 117,240 deaths. Globally, there were 8,261,260 cases and 445,468 deaths.
Of the 380 new community cases, 45% were in Benton (81) and Washington (90) counties.
Gov. Hutchinson announced Wednesday that nursing homes and other long-term health care facilities can begin limited reopening July 1 for family visits. The facilities can begin to open July 1 if they meet rules set forth by the Arkansas Department of Health. (As of 5 p.m., the ADH had not posted the new guidelines.) The rules include creating indoor and outdoor spaces that meet physical distancing rules, and using scheduling systems to limit the number of visitors at the location.
Relaxed rules also allow for opening of salons for residents, access to communal dining and returning to group activities. Outdoor visits are preferred, but indoor visits are allowed for residents who cannot be moved outside, or if the weather is too hot. Only two visitors per resident will be allowed.