Governor outlines vaccine timelines as state COVID-19 hospitalizations, active cases hit new all-time highs

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday provided some new information on when Arkansans may expect to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on a day when virus hospitalizations and active cases hit new all-time highs.

The governor, speaking at a press conference in Little Rock Tuesday announced an additional 4,107 new cases of the virus, bringing the active number of cases to a record 24,404, along with 27 new hospitalizations for a new high of 1,323 as officials warned of a new “surge within a surge” of the virus in the state.

Dr. Cam Patterson, CEO of UAMS Medical Center who is also a member of the governor’s winter task force on COVID-19 spoke of the impact of the rise in hospitalizations in the state.

“We are stressed, we are strained, but the system is not breaking at the present moment,” Patterson said. “But we do have finite resources, and we do need to be careful as to how we manage those resources. And we need to continue to do everything we can as a state to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19 while we wait for the effects of the vaccine to impact us in a positive manner.”

Patterson said that all hospitals in the state are feeling an impact currently. Last week, he said, UAMS was on the verge of moving to surge phase 2 which would include moving to double occupancy in single occupancy rooms, and expanding emergency department facilities into a nearby parking deck.

“For right now, the system is holding. We have capacity to surge and expand if that needs to happen. That capacity is not infinite,” he said. “I don’t foresee a critical moment in the next 2-3 weeks, but I do anticipate the strain, though, on the healthcare system will continue to increase on a week-by-week basis as the cases continues to increase.”

Patterson said his hospital has begun administering the second dose to his staff this week with no ill effects thus far.

“The vaccine is safe as advertised,” he said.

Timelines for vaccine rollout

Hutchinson outlined the first three phases of the vaccination plan in the state, including for the first time some dates on when the state hopes to complete vaccinations of groups determined to be at a high priority to receive the vaccine.

The first group, Phase 1-A, began on Dec. 14, and includes health care workers including hospital employees along with workers in primary care, urgent care, college and university health centers, K-12 health clinics and school nurses, dental clinics, pharmacies, home health, private care/personal care, hospice care, dialysis centers, corrections officers, and blood donation centers. Long-term facility residents and staffs are also included in the first group.

Hutchinson announced Tuesday that EMS, firefighters, and law enforcement officials that serve as first responders will also be added to the Phase 1-A priority group. Hutchinson said the first group could be completed by the end of January.

The second group, deemed Phase 1-B, would begin receiving vaccinations in February. That group includes individuals 70 and older, along with teachers and school staff, food and agricultural workers, firefighters and police officers not included in 1-A, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, child care workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, and essential government workers. Hutchinson estimate the second group, which includes more than 400,000 individuals, would be completed by the end of March.

The Phase 1-C group would begin receiving vaccines sometime around April. This group would include people aged 65-69, people 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions, and workers in other industries including transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing, public safety, finance, IT and communication, energy, media, and public health.

Hutchinson announced that 2,922 vaccinations were administered in the state since yesterday bringing the total number of doses given in the state to 39,208. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, the state has so far received 134,425 doses of vaccine from the federal government so far.

State Secretary of Health Jose Romero said that the phases may be modified based on the needs of the state, and the timelines may also change based on a number of factors.

“Each phase will be moved from one to another through gating processes,” Romero said. “These guidelines will determine the number of individuals vaccinated, the degree of uptake of the vaccine, and we will make a decision to move forward. We have tentative timelines, but as you heard from the governor, we have significant numbers in these phases.

“A further modification may come as we get more vaccines in the future,” he said. “There are at least two other vaccines in the pipeline that may be available in the next two or three months.”

Case update

The Arkansas Department of Health announced that COVID-19 cases in Arkansas increased by 4,107 on Tuesday, marking the second highest single-day increase since the pandemic began.

The state announced 36 new deaths as a result of COVID-19, bringing the toll in the state to 3,836.

Of the new cases added Tuesday, 399 are from Washington County and 389 come from Benton County.

Hospitalizations increased by 27 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of Arkansans hospitalized with the virus to a record high 1,323. There are 224 Arkansans on ventilators, up 12 from Monday.

Secretary of Health Romero remarked on the record number of hospitalizations in the state.

“We do have capacity in these areas, but if we don’t guard them carefully, we will exceed the capacity that we do have,” Romero said. “It’s important to note that right now we are compensating for these increased cases, but these cases will increase.

“What we are seeing right now is what I, and all of us have warned about,” he said. “That is, a surge on top of a surge, and how much of a second surge we’ll have on top of that first surge is unknown.”

There are currently 24,408 cases of COVID-19 considered active in the state, which includes those that have tested positive by both PCR and antigen testing methods.

The state reported just 5,224 new PCR tests on Tuesday, along with 3,552 new antigen tests.

The new cases bring the total cumulative count in Arkansas to 238,888 since the pandemic began.

The top counties for new cases announced Monday were Pulaski (418), Washington (399), Benton (389), Sebastian (265) and Garland (232).

Case report – Tuesday, Jan. 5

Vaccination outline

Vaccination report – Tuesday, Jan. 5