Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Dec. 3 that the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) will be reducing quarantine requirements amid record coronavirus totals across the state.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new quarantine guidance for people who have been exposed to COVID-19 on Dec. 2, and the ADH will largely be adopting those guidelines. Quarantine may now end after 10 days without a coronavirus test and symptoms. If someone receives a negative PCR test, they can be released from quarantine seven days after exposure. In both the 10-day and 7-day cases, people should continue to monitor for symptoms for the remaining 14 days after exposure. A 14-day quarantine is still recommended as the safest way to prevent the spread of the virus.
Dr. José Romero, Secretary of the ADH, stated that though the new guidelines will be adopted by the ADH, stricter requirements will be enforced in long-term care facilities and correctional facilities. He also noted the importance of continuing to monitor for symptoms after being exposed and urged the public to take measures to stop the spread of the virus.
“We are seeing an increasing number of cases in our state. Unfortunately, I believe this is going to continue,” said Romero. “This does not mean that we can become lax in the use of the mask, distancing and hand washing. Now is the time to become even more stringent. This will spread if we do not attempt to bring it under control.”
Secretary of Education Johnny Key stated the new quarantine guidelines are welcome news to schools around Arkansas. Many schools have switched to virtual learning due to teachers having to quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to the virus, so the shortened timeline will allow them to reenter the classroom more quickly.
Hutchinson announced that 2,789 total cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, which is the most reported by the state since the pandemic began. Net hospitalizations fell by 16, but Hutchinson warned that high case totals indicate more hospitalizations are imminent. There are currently 1,072 people hospitalized for the virus, and 190 people are currently on a ventilator. 33 deaths were recorded due to the virus. Washington, Benton and Pulaski counties all recorded more than 200 cases.
Chris Barber, the CEO of St. Bernards Healthcare in Jonesboro and a member of the Governor’s Winter Task Force, stated that he is optimistic about new outpatient therapeutics for patients, as well as the vaccine that should arrive in the state in the coming weeks. However, Barber also noted that the healthcare system is strained, and he urged the public to wear a mask, distance and avoid large gatherings.
“I will be remiss if I didn’t clearly articulate that what is upon us for the next two or three months is very challenging. The health care system in the state will be stretched and challenged at a level we’ve never experienced before. We’re up for the task, but it’s going to take all of us,” said Barber.
Hutchinson also announced that he has requested that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) allocate ten hospital beds in the Veterans Administration hospital in Little Rock.
“That includes five ICU beds as well as five medical surgical beds so that we can have an expanded capacity here in Arkansas,” said Hutchinson. “This will be particularly helpful as we bring Trauma Comm online. That will help us to allocate the COVID patients among a broader range of facilities that can offer the bed space that’s needed. This will be at a cost of $1.9 million for 30 days. The state’s share of this will be right at about $500,000.”
Although FEMA has not yet approved this request, Hutchinson expects it to be approved in the next 24 hours.