The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Northeast Arkansas has ballooned by 112% since the end of September and community leaders issued dire warnings Friday (Oct. 30) if the trend isn’t abated. The region has led the state in virus increases for six consecutive weeks, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said, and that has led to a daily average of hospitalized patients in the 170 range – which also leads the state.
During the last week, the average daily caseload has increased by 57 per day.
Day, along with St. Bernards CEO Chris Barber, NEA Memorial Baptist CEO Sam Lynd, and NYIT College of Osteopathic Dean Dr. Shane Speights held an emergency press conference Friday (Oct. 30).
Day noted that the White House Coronavirus Task Force has specifically identified Craighead County as one of the red zones in the country for new infections. The county judge said that residents in the region have to be more diligent about mask wearing and social distancing.
COVID-19 isn’t the flu, Speights said. Both enter the body into the lungs, but the flu virus stays in the respiratory system. COVID enters the bloodstream and attacks organs such as the heart, brain, bowels, and others. Doctors still don’t understand what types of damages the disease can cause in the organ system. Speights noted that some seemingly healthy people have contracted the disease and have had serious organ problems.
Barber said that at least 1,350 patients in Northeast Arkansas have already been treated for COVID-19. At this point, the 14 hospitals in the region can handle the number of cases. But, that capacity is starting to run thin, and the healthcare systems cannot withstand another month where the rate jumps like it has during the last month.
“We are certainly trending in the wrong direction … We cannot continue the trend we are seeing right now. We are putting everyone on notice,” Barber said.
In May, hospitalizations were in the 20 per day range and it steadily rose to about 75 per day in July when Gov. Asa Hutchinson mandated public mask wearing. The number of cases significantly dipped by mid-August, but then after schools opened the number of cases began to rise to record levels.
The increases are unprecedented and present a danger to public health, Speights said. There have been many who believe mask wearing can cause other physical problems, such as having lower oxygen levels and those rumors are false, he said.
“As a country, we are at the highest point we’ve ever been,” he said. “In Arkansas, we are hitting case levels we’ve never seen.”
Lynd said they tested all 1,700 employees and about half a percent of employees tested positive, even in an environment where the virus exists. He said it proves that mask wearing, washing hands and other measures can limit the spread of the disease.
Studies have shown that communities that have mask mandates with 75% or more compliance have flattened curves, he said. Those that don’t have exploding caseloads.
“For the sake of our community … help us flatten the curve,” Lynd said.