Gov. Asa Hutchison warned Arkansans on Saturday that it could be almost two months before the COVID-19 virus peaks in the state.
“At the peak, we are likely to see 1,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. This number strains our hospitals, our medical system and our economy, and it endangers lives,” the governor said.
Hutchison asked residents to follow the advice of public health authorities: Keep a physical distance from others, engage in screening to keep healthy people away from sick ones, and avoid unnecessary travel.
“If we are successful in this effort, as a public and as Arkansans, then we don’t have to do what other states have done which is shelter in place, cease more business activity, lose more jobs and -- as you see, they have gone to more extreme measures,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson spoke from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) in the latest of what have become daily briefings on the pandemic’s impact on Arkansas.
Through Saturday afternoon, Arkansas had 118 confirmed COVID-19 cases. There were cases in 26 of 75 Arkansas counties – Sebastian County was added overnight. There are no cases in Columbia or the nearby counties of Union, Calhoun, Ouachita, Nevada, Lafayette, Hempstead or Miller. There were cases in North Louisiana parishes.
There have been no COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas so far.
Dr. Nathaniel Smith, director of the ADH, broke down the numbers.
A total of 13 of the 118 cases are in hospitals. Four patients either are or have been on ventilators for breathing assistance.
The cases include nine children up to age 18, and 32 people age 65 or older.
The first U.S. death from COVID-19 was on February 29. News media reported on Saturday that there are now more than 27,000 U.S. cases, and 340 deaths. Some of the initial sufferers have recovered.
Economic and social disruption has been extensive in Arkansas and across the nation. Almost all state and local governments have asked that social gatherings not exceed 10 people. Schools have closed through mid-April, the travel and tourism industries have virtually shut down, and many businesses are almost vacant as customers have chosen to stay home.
Panic buying at grocers and other retailers has stripped shelves bare of many products, including bread and toilet paper.
The medical community is struggling to test Americans for the virus and to gear up with the equipment necessary to keep critically ill patients alive. In the meantime, the crisis has brought on a shortage of personal protective equipment – PPEs – designed to keep health care providers safe while they treat the sick.
“We are doing everything we can as a state to flatten the peak, to make sure we don’t get any worse than the projections. But we need (the public’s) help to engage in these common-sense protective measures for your own benefit and for the benefit of those that depend upon you, and the elderly,” Hutchinson said.
One key goal of the state is to keep businesses and industries open.
“We produce because we have to produce in our country if we are going to keep meeting the needs of our society, both critical and otherwise, and to avoid the extreme measures taken in other places,” Hutchinson said.
“I hope that we are wrong. I hope the peak is not as high. I hope that the trend is not as long. But if we don’t reach those levels we can rejoice. But let’s do all we can to get life back to normal in Arkansas. And that takes some sacrifice by everybody,” Hutchinson said.
Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said that at present Arkansas appears to have the resources to handle what’s coming.
State authorities expect to be able to test up to 800 people per day later next week. This will provide information for quarantines.
Medical facilities also expect to start receiving bulk shipments of protective gear.
Patterson reminded the public that if they are concerned that they may have the virus, their first step should not be to go directly to health care providers or emergency rooms. They should first use online or hotline resources to be screened for symptoms.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Most people recover from the disease without needing special treatment. But, older people and others with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk of becoming severely ill.