Death toll in Craighead County from COVID-19 pushes past 200; DO school ramps up education efforts

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,290 views 

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented sickness and death to Northeast Arkansas as the death toll from the virus has topped 200 in Craighead County, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. The county has more than 1,166 active cases, and there have been 16,907 positive tests since the pandemic began in March 2020.

One factor that has fueled the surge, according to health experts, is the lack of vaccinations. Only 36.3% of county residents are fully vaccinated while another 13% have received at least a partial vaccine.

NEA Baptist reported earlier this week it had 21 COVID-19 patients receiving ICU treatment and nine were on ventilators. At least 85% of those who have been hospitalized have been unvaccinated, and state officials have repeatedly said that about 92% of all virus deaths are now from the unvaccinated.

Medical professionals are trying to find new ways to educate the public about the vaccines and the virus.

The New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University (NYITCOM at A-State) has worked to provide COVID education and vaccines throughout the region. Dr. Brookshield Laurent has seen one factor make a significant difference in vaccine acceptance. Access to both the vaccines themselves and education surrounding them.

“We’ve diligently worked to bring not only the vaccine to people, but also educational opportunities,” said Laurent, who serves as chair of clinical medicine at NYITCOM at A-State as well as the executive director of NYITCOM’s Delta Population Health Institute (DPHI).

“It makes a huge difference when people are able to visit with a trusted physician and ask questions. We all know there’s so much information out there – both good and bad – that it’s difficult to sort through it all. We’ve really enjoyed connecting with people to answer their questions and to make the vaccine readily available to them.”

This spring, NYITCOM hosted mobile vaccine clinics in communities throughout eastern Arkansas. Over the last few weeks, the medical school, through the DPHI, has targeted specific businesses to provide on-site clinics and educational sessions.

NYITCOM’s DPHI has taken teams to area businesses – such as PECO Foods, FMH Conveyers, Anchor Packaging, Delta Peanut, Apex, Nestle and Riceland – to deliver vaccines to their employees.

“We are grateful to the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce for helping connect us with businesses who need help not only delivering the vaccines but also helping their employees understand the safety and importance of getting vaccinated,” Laurent said. “We often set up in a break room or another place that’s convenient for the employees, and our faculty physicians can have conversations with people to answer their questions and ease their concerns. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Additionally, NYITCOM’s faculty physicians have hosted a number of educational sessions with area businesses like Jonesboro City Water & Light and Hytrol, as well as several school districts. The sessions allowed employees to ask direct questions to local doctors to address concerns and dispel myths.

“We know there is a lot of confusion when it comes to COVID,” Hytrol President David Peacock said. “At Hytrol, we also know firsthand how devastating the virus can be and we can see how the vaccine lessens the risk of the worse consequences. Partnering with our medical community is vital so that we ensure our employees have access to the most accurate and up to date information.”

Like many companies, Hytrol and CWL have offered on-site vaccine clinics. CWL reported that many employees took immediate action following the NYITCOM-led session.

“We received a ton of positive feedback from our employees,” said Nate Schimmel, a compliance specialist with CWL who organized the events. “We had a pharmacy set up on site the same day Dr. (Shane) Speights spoke to them, and we had several employees get vaccinated right after hearing from him. It certainly made a difference, and we’re grateful to NYITCOM for being such a great resource.”