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COVID cases in Arkansas continue soaring to new record highs

 Lines of cars with people being tested for COVID-19 stream through a garage at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on July 13, 2020.
Michael Hibblen
/
KUAR
Lines of cars with people being tested for COVID-19 stream through a garage at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on July 13, 2020.

For a third straight day on Thursday, Arkansas set a record for the number of new cases of people testing positive for COVID-19.

The Department of Health reported 7,787 new infections which pushed the number of active cases up by 6,015 for a total of 44,169 people being impacted by the virus.

The number of hospitalizations grew by 73, with 892 patients being treated at hospitals statewide. The department also reported 22 additional deaths for a total of 9,278 since the pandemic began.

Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Dillaha spoke with KUAR News Thursday afternoon about the latest case report. An edited transcript of the conversation is below.

The state keeps reaching new highs since the start of the pandemic. What's your assessment right now?

DR. JENNIFER DILLAHA: Well, currently we're in a very steep increase of cases due to the omicron variant, which is extremely contagious. It's very easily spread and it appears to cause a milder disease in people in general, but because these sheer numbers are so great, it is still increasing the total number of hospitalizations and our hospitals are struggling. We are very concerned about that.

What should people be doing right now? Is this a time to hunker down?

It is. People need to make sure whether they're vaccinated and boasted or not, to wear a mask whenever they go out in public. And it would be helpful to them if they could wear a mask that is more protective of the wearer than a cloth mask. A KN95, a surgical mask if they have it, an N95, any of those three is preferable to just a cloth mask to protect the wearer. And if people wish to wear a surgical mask with a cloth mask, that would also help protect them. That's one thing.

They need to keep from spreading it and keep from getting it. One way, of course, to keep from getting it is for people to minimize the places that they go. So if they can go to the store and afford stock up, that would be good. It would decrease their trips out in public. If they develop symptoms, even just mild symptoms like cold-like symptoms, then they should stay home, and attempt to get tested. Right now we have limitations on our testing capacity, so if a person cannot get tested, they should still stay home and isolate.

We're still seeing restaurants with a lot of business. What do you think when you still see people going out to eat?

Well, I'm concerned about that, both for the patrons of the restaurant but for the workers. So we are seeing in hospitals that hospitals are struggling because their workers are calling in sick. Many of them are becoming infected. We're seeing the airline industry having to cancel flights because their workers are sick and there is no reason for me to believe that the restaurant workers will not become sick and the restaurant will have a difficult time keeping their businesses open. So I encourage people to do takeout whenever possible. It will help protect them and the restaurant workers.

Based on the trends, any speculation on how long will continue to see this? This is three days in a row of new, all time daily records. Any speculation, how long we’ll continue seeing cases going up at this rate?

Well, it is hard to know. In South Africa they went rapidly up and then rapidly down. But in the United Kingdom, which we tend to follow more closely, it's been a longer curve and then we're different from the United Kingdom. We're not as highly vaccinated and we don't wear masks as well as they do. So I think that we could be in this for some weeks and we'll just have to wait and see. It's like baseball. It's not going to be over till it's over.

Any additional suggestions, anything else you'd like to add?

I would encourage people if they are not vaccinated and boasted that they take steps to get that done now. It's going to be very important for people to have strong immunity to the coronavirus and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated and then boosted. I would also encourage people to not rely on previous infection. We can see now that people are getting infected again if they've had prior variants. They're getting infected again with the omicron variant and some people are getting infected for the third time. So that's not a reliable way to go. The best thing to do is to get fully vaccinated and then boasted and be up-to-date.

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