Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday (Nov. 30) there is not yet enough data “to make definitive decisions” about how to react to the COVID-19 Omicron variant but he is concerned with recent trends showing more COVID cases and hospitalizations in the state.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26 listed Omicron as a “variant of concern” based on its potential transmissibility and severity in cases emerging from South Africa. WHO officials said they do not yet have data on the variant’s ease of transmission and disease severity.
“It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron,” WHO noted about the variant.
Gov. Hutchinson told reporters during his weekly media briefing on Tuesday that he is in direct contact with the White House about the variant and they are focused on answering three key questions before developing a response.
“The key questions to ask, and to get more information on, is how contagious is Omicron? Secondly, how severe is the disease, and is it more severe than what we have now or will it be less severe? And thirdly, do vaccines and other therapeutics, are they effective with this variant? We don’t have the data yet for that. Hopefully, by next Tuesday we’ll have more data and more answers,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said the Omicron variant has not been detected in Arkansas, but officials are testing for it.
The governor and Romero said they worry the state could see another surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. While it may not reach levels seen in the previous two waves, they both said recent trends are moving in the wrong direction and more Arkansans need to get vaccinated. Gov. Hutchinson said the positivity rate has increased in recent weeks to 9.1%, and Romero said hospitalizations rose 20% in the past week, and 30% of new cases are in the 5-18 age group.
Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) data shows a rise of 1,044 cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the cumulative total to 528,838, Active cases rose by 335, bringing the total to 5,699, and reported deaths rose by 12, bringing the cumulative total to 8,667. The ADH also reported 19 new hospitalizations, bringing the total to 409, with patients on ventilators rising by eight to 73.
The data also shows that 85.9% of new cases and 87.9% of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.