Governor: Hospital capacity not an issue

A. Drew Smith
Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed satisfaction with the level of patients in Arkansas hospitals.

The number of hospitalizations in Arkansas due to COVID-19 dropped for the first time in over a week on Monday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson took the opportunity to explain where the state is as far as hospital capacity goes and the plan if capacity is reached.

“We take COVID and the spread very seriously,” Hutchinson said, as he opened his briefing with a response to new guidance for Arkansans to wear masks.

Monday saw 522 new cases in the state for a cumulative total of 16,083 since March. The two highest daily increases remain in Washington and Benton counties, with 202 cases combined.

The seven day rolling average and the number of active cases are still on the rise as of Monday. Both Hutchinson and Health Secretary Nate Smith believe this is a result of the high level of testing taking place.

“We are not backing off testing,” Hutchinson stated when asked about President Trump’s comments over the weekend, suggesting the high number of cases being related to testing.

Smith called Arkansas’ approach “aggressive” and pointed out that only 5% of new cases are as a result of reopening measures.

There were 5,063 active cases in Arkansas with 10,793 recoveries as of Monday.

Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) set a goal to carry out 120,000 tests in the month of June and as of Monday, that goal was reached with more than a week to spare. The number represents 4% of the population of Arkansas.

As of Monday, there were 237 COVID-19 patients in the hospital with 61 on ventilators across the state, most of which are in Northwest Arkansas. These numbers represent 71% of bed capacity and 34% of ventilators.

Smith shared that hospitals are able to expand general beds and ICU beds in hospitals as a part of their surge plan, but ventilators are harder to expand.

Baptist Health CEO Troy Wells highlighted that hospitals are getting busier meaning patients are no longer delaying non-COVID-19 care.

Wells reported that there are 200 critical care beds in the Baptist network, 185 of which are in use with only 16 being COVID-19 related.

In Fort Smith, there are only 10 COVID-19 patients between the two hospitals and, according to Dr. Lee Johnson, they have “lots of room to flex up.”

While the central region is receiving patients from all over the state, Northwest Arkansas has the highest level of patients in hospitals. There are both short and long term plans for surges and they will flex services as needed.

Cam Patterson of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) said that they are prepared to transfer both patients and providers out of Northwest Arkansas if needed to relieve pressure of hospitals in that area.

Smith reiterated that even though residents over the age of 65 only make up 10% of cases, they make up 70% of the deaths. He used this as an opportunity to remind young people that they may survive, but their older friends and relatives may not.