Dr. Joe Thompson, former state surgeon general and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, says we are nearing the point of declaring another pandemic emergency and his biggest worry is a new coronavirus variant resistant to current vaccines.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Thompson was asked if it is time to declare a new COVID-19 emergency.
“We are approaching that point,” he said. “If we don’t get control of the spread of this Delta variant, one of my biggest fears is that with the spread we’re going to have a new variant that is either more infectious or escapes the control of our vaccines and then we will be back at square one as we were in the original pandemic.”
Over the past two weeks, Arkansas has recorded 16,022 new cases. As of Sunday (July 25), 6,048 Arkansans have died from COVID-19. Hospitalizations have risen exponentially to the point where hospitals are redeploying critical personnel and restricting visitation.
Thompson said with the start of school less than a month away, officials are restricted from taking safety precautions, like a mask mandate, due to a new state law passed by the GOP-led legislature. Last week, two child deaths were reported – one from December and one this month.
“Unfortunately, the virus has now penetrated our younger age populations – more than half of the new infections over the course of the last week have been in people under age 35, and it’s reaching down into our teens and younger children,” he said.
“This Delta variant is more than twice as infectious as the parent virus that we dealt with last year. We’re on a steeper infection curve than we ever were last year with the Delta variant racing through our communities, and I think we’re going to need to have all tools available for us. Superintendents are worried about their ability to bring kids back in school safely, and we really need to try to get everyone that could be protected with a vaccine protected, before we start school or college this fall,” Thompson added.
But Arkansas’ vaccination still lags in the mid-30 percent range. A little over one million Arkansans are fully vaccinated out of the state’s population of 3.3 million.
Thompson said until a vaccine is found for those under the age of 12, they will be highly at risk with school restarting. He suggests that without a repeal of the mask mandate, the best that can be hoped for is a voluntary masking situation.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out and – because we cannot protect children less than 12 and too many of those over 12 that are eligible for a vaccine will not be protected – they call for all schools to have masks for all kids. The Catholic diocese this week decided that all Catholic schools would have masks for school, all grades for all kids. I think we need to have masks in schools when we go back [to school]. I would encourage local superintendents to contact their legislators and have a voluntary program with parents, if we still are handcuffed and not able to do it by mandate,” he said.
You can watch Thompson’s full interview in the video below.