Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his COVID Winter Task Force announced new guidelines for hospitals on Nov. 20 as coronavirus cases continue to increase across the state.
Hutchinson announced there have been 2,061 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, as well as 24 new deaths. There have been 36 new hospitalizations, which brings the total across the state to 935. There are currently 17,360 active cases in the state, which increased by 362 cases today.
Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of UAMS, announced new quarantine guidelines for essential hospital workers. Previously, healthcare workers who had been exposed had to remain in quarantine for 14 days. Health care workers now will be tested five to seven days after exposure and will return to work if they test negative. According to Patterson, 400 UAMS employees are currently under quarantine.
Additionally, if hospitals are experiencing “extreme conditions,” hospital workers who are COVID-positive and asymptomatic may return to work. If this situation arises, according to Patterson, these workers would only be working with COVID patients and would be segregated from employees and patients who are not infected. Patterson did not explain what would define extreme conditions, but did state that no hospitals are currently experiencing that level of need.
Dr. José Romero, the Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), discussed the CDC recommendations that discourage gathering in large groups, particularly during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“The CDC has new guidelines with regard to the coming holiday. They’re strongly discouraging travel outside of the area, so you should not really be thinking of traveling a lot to go across the country to see your relatives. Even within the state you should probably not engage in that,” Romero said.
Both Romero and Patterson recommended a “nuclear Thanksgiving,” which is a gathering of less than ten people. Romero also discouraged individuals from bringing people in nursing homes into the home environment.
Hutchinson also announced that 1,104 nursing students will graduate in schools across Arkansas in the coming weeks, and their licensure process will be expedited in order for them to enter the workforce quickly.
Dr. Larry Shackelford, the CEO of Washington Regional Medical System, stated that hospitals in Northwest Arkansas have seen a 40 percent increase in the number of COVID patients that require inpatient care. He warned that the hospitals cannot sustain that level of growth without reaching capacity.
“We do have capacity to not only take care of COVID patients, but to take care of other patients that need care. But it’s important that we act now,” said Shackelford. “If we see two weeks from today the kinds of increases that we’ve seen [in our hospitals the past two weeks], then we are going to be at a point that it will be challenging to meet those needs.”
On Thurs., Nov. 19, Hutchinson announced an 11 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants that sell alcohol. When asked why the 11 p.m. was chosen at Friday’s conference, Hutchinson claimed the recommendation came from the Arkansas Department of Public Safety, the ADH, and Alcohol Beverage Control division to “minimize undisciplined gatherings of people that are not in compliance with public health guidelines.”
Hutchinson stated he has no intention of placing new restrictions on businesses and restaurants, nor to move schools to virtual learning.