Dr. Joe Thompson, CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and former state surgeon general, warns that Arkansas’ COVID-19 cases will increase over the holidays if citizens don’t alter their behavior. He also said Gov. Asa Hutchinson can assert more enforcement influence with existing guidelines.
“With the holidays approaching, I’m very concerned about the rate of spread and the number of new cases and, unfortunately, deaths that we are observing,” Thompson told Talk Business & Politics.
Since Nov. 1, Arkansas has averaged nearly 1,400 daily new cases of COVID-19. Deaths have risen to more than 2,100 from the disease.
Thompson said with Arkansas hospitals nearing capacity for ICU beds – they are currently over 90% occupied with COVID-19 and non-coronavirus patients – the danger of having enough bed space and the personnel to staff them is serious.
“We’ve seen a dramatic escalation, going from new cases in the hundreds to now new cases pushing 2,000 each day. This is a sign of broad spread. It’s across the state. It’s in all communities,” he said. “I think, importantly, we’re seeing some of the highest concentrations of new COVID cases in the rural parts of our state that maybe haven’t had the exposure, haven’t had the threat, but now it’s rapidly spreading in rural parts of our state.”
Thompson’s organization has issued guidelines to encourage people to be safer during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. However, he warns that other states in dire circumstances are pivoting to even more drastic measures.
“As we see our hospitals be threatened, as we see our schools have more risk conveying into them, there are potentially more dramatic steps that have to be taken. The governor of Utah has done a massive shutdown in Utah. The governor of Ohio yesterday started putting in new restrictions. El Paso has had to have the Air Force medical personnel flown in because their healthcare personnel were unable to staff the emergency field hospital.
“If we start to see those things – and that’s the path that we’re on with the upward trend and escalating number of infections – dramatic steps will have to be taken. And we don’t want to put our economy, our social structures back into threat, but this is real and everyone needs to redouble your efforts to avoid exposure at every chance you have,” he said.
Thompson said there are other steps that Hutchinson may have to institute soon if the trajectory continues its upward trend.
“I think we see other governors doing local lockdowns; not necessarily statewide shutdowns, but where there is a hotspot, having local suspension of activities, giving local mayors more authority to do enforcement of curfews or other efforts to get masking up,” he said.
“Our business community has a role to play. Every business should actually have their customers and their employees masked at all times if they have close contact or they’re in a public space or those businesses should lose the protection for COVID protections legally that the governor has extended. There are a number of things to do to ramp up. And I think, increasingly, it’s going to have to be an enforcement action to have that be successful,” Thompson added.
You can watch Dr. Thompson’s full interview in the video below.