Cases of Covid-19 in Arkansas continued to climb in late July with new cases July 23 totaling 1,987 and new cases July 24 reaching 2,015. Those were the highest case totals seen in the state since early February and come at a time when the Delta variant of Covid is causing cases to soar not just in Arkansas, but many other states with low vaccination rates, and in other countries, as well.
On July 26, in the previous two weeks Carroll County had experienced a 400 percent increase in hospitalizations and a 129 percent increase new Covid-19 cases, according to information from state and federal health authorities.
Dr. Dan Bell, co-founder of the ECHO Clinic, is concerned that the incidence of Covid-19 is still going up locally and in the state. Arkansas continues to have the highest rates of new Covid-19 cases in the country with Northwest Arkansas particularly impacted. Major hospitals in the area are facing shortages of beds and staff. At one hospital, trauma patients were being housed in hallways because of the lack of bed space.
“The Eureka Family Medical Clinic has been busy all week with some of the highest drive-through Covid testing requests we have seen,” Bell said. “Hospitalizations in our area are going up. We are still in a worrisome situation. It is a national surge. The Delta variant is spreading rapidly all over the country and is exacerbated in areas where we have low vaccination rates.”
Across the U.S., in the two weeks ending on July 26, the average number of new cases of Covid-19 is up 170 percent, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitalizations are up 58 percent and deaths are up 20 percent. The U.S. leads the world in the number of cases per capita in the world despite having earlier access to vaccines.
Washington Regional Medical Center, which operates the Eureka Springs Family Medical Clinic, announced that it is making vaccination mandatory for all employees and volunteers by October 1.
“If you are a healthcare provider taking care of people who are sick and frail with health issues, you have to be vaccinated,” Bell said. “I’m with Washington Regional all the way. My understanding is that they will review case-by-case anyone who is opposed to vaccination. Already some people have said, ‘Okay, we will do it.’ Once you put that mandate out, the job force goes ahead and complies.”
Mercy Health also announced a mandate for employees to be vaccinated. Mercy, one of the larger hospital systems in the region, operates the Mercy Berryville Hospital.
Bell said it is important to continue to correct false information about vaccines including that these mRNA vaccines change your DNA.
“There is no evidence of that,” Bell said. “They just teach the immune system to neutralize the virus as it arrives.”
Bell is encouraged to see an increase in vaccinations. For several weeks only eight or 10 people were getting vaccinations at Smith Drugs Saturday from 10 a.m. That recently doubled to 20.
“That is nothing dramatic, but it’s an improvement,” Bell said. “We are seeing folks coming out to finally get vaccinated. We have a new policy at the ECHO Clinic that patients have to be vaccinated or they won’t be seen. If you aren’t going to take that medical advice, what other medical advice won’t be followed? We will have a vaccine shot available if they come to the clinic. People need to see this seriously.”
Moderna shots at the Smith Drug are scheduled to end July 31. Moderna shots are available at the Holiday Island Pharmacy on a walk-in basis on Tuesdays and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Shots of the Pfizer vaccine will continue to be available at the Eureka Springs Hospital Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Catherine Pappas, hospital community liaison and educator, said there are more young people, including those going back to school in the fall, who are getting vaccinations.
Pappas said the message is getting out that this Delta variant is contagious and dangerous. One person with the Delta variant can spread it to an average of eight people while those with the original variant infected 2.5 people on average. Pappas said within the five days Covid is incubating in your system, you can infect a large number of people before you realize you have the virus.
“We are definite hotspots,” Pappas said. “Southwest Missouri is a hotspot and it connects with Northwest Arkansas. There are a lot of people going back and forth. If you look at Carroll County, our Covid case numbers are higher now than a year ago. Last year, it was hitting the elderly, or people with underlying health problems. Now it is making a lot of younger people very ill.”
Anyone with questions or who wants to schedule an appointment can call Pappas at (281) 382-0054. Pappas is also arranging shot clinics out in the community when at least five people wants to be immunized.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said that the state is currently seeing the highest demand for vaccines seen since April. On July 23 and 24, an estimated 25,480 shots were given. Dillaha said it appears more people are feeling an increased sense of urgency to get the shots.
The CDC has revised guidelines stating that people who are fully immunized can get together without masks or social distancing. But the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement released a statement July 23 Friday voicing alarm over the resurgence of Covid-19 in Arkansas and urging renewed vigilance against the virus. ACHI is recommending that even those who are fully vaccinated redouble precautions including wearing masks, washing hands frequently and social distancing.