Health officials have been sounding the warning for weeks on the Delta variant of COVID-19, but it has yet to slow down the public health threat. Now, UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson says the new strain of COVID-19 is overwhelming Arkansas’ health care system.
In a tweet Saturday (July 17), Patterson said, “The hospital @uamshealth is full. COVID-19 numbers increase every day. We are staffing inpatients in the ER and recovery room. No space for transfers. Running out of caregivers. Support health care workers. Mask up. Get vaxxed.”
Appearing on Sunday’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Patterson said the disease is different from a year ago when the state was paralyzed by the coronavirus.
“This is not the same virus that was going around a year ago… A year ago, the average age of a patient who was admitted to UAMS with a COVID-19 infection was in their 60’s… Now the average age is getting closer and closer to 40,” he said.
“We’re seeing younger people. We’re seeing people who don’t have other medical problems. We’re seeing people who go straight from an initial symptom to needing mechanical ventilation. We’re seeing more patients. We’ve got more patients today requiring heart-lung bypass. And I, as I talked to my peers across the state, CEOs and leaders of other health care facilities across the state, they’re all seeing the same thing. The hospitals are full, their ERs are full. They’re seeing more patients needing ICU care. They’re seeing younger patients and it’s getting worse on a daily basis,” Patterson said.
With school starting back in a month, elected officials seem determined to keep in-person classes intact. Patterson warns that children are especially susceptible to the new COVID strain.
“We thought that young kids were bulletproof and that they might get COVID-19 infections, but that they might not be severe. That’s no longer the case,” he said. “Right now, there are almost as many Arkansans infected with COVID-19 who are 17 or younger than individuals who are 65 and older. So this disease clearly affects younger individuals.”
Patterson said for children 12 and over they should get vaccinated before school starts. There is not safe vaccine for those under 12 and Patterson predicts it may be mid-winter before one emerges.
“They [kids under 12] will remain vulnerable. That means masking for young kids. That’s going to be critical, maintaining social distance, which I know is really hard with little kids, but we’re learning some lessons this summer. We’re seeing, especially across the south in summer camps, substantial COVID-19 outbreaks and the same thing can happen in schools, if we’re not really careful,” he said.
This Tuesday, UAMS officials will provide a new COVID-19 model for Arkansas. Patterson suggests it will be dire.
“Our models do project that we will probably get back into the same territory that we were in in terms of total number of cases that are similar to what we saw back in February and March, which means 3,000 plus new cases identified a day,” he said.
“The model also predicts that because this will be the Delta variant rather than the alpha variant, or the original virus, that a greater portion of individuals will require hospitalization and ICU care. So we will be at a point at our peak – if this model is correct – where we will have over 1,500 hospitalized patients in the state of Arkansas at any one time. And if that happens, that will clearly outstrip our ability to care for every patient, both COVID-19 positive and patients who are coming into the hospital for other reasons, we simply don’t have the hospital beds. And more importantly, the staff to manage that many additional patients,” Patterson said.
You can watch Patterson’s full interview in the video below.