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Active COVID cases in Arkansas near 80,000; UAMS hits record number of patients

 UAMS Clinical Services Manager Deborah Hutts speaks to staffers in July 2020 before they began conducting COVID-19 testing.
Michael Hibblen
UAMS Clinical Services Manager Deborah Hutts speaks to staffers in July 2020 before they began conducting COVID-19 testing.

Cases of COVID-19 continue expanding rapidly in Arkansas. The state reported nearly 13,000 new infections on Thursday, setting another record for the second day in a row. The number of active cases has grown to nearly 80,000 people, according to the Department of Health.

The actual number of cases is likely higher as the state this week began distributing hundreds of thousands of free rapid at-home tests, with results typically not reported to authorities. Officials say the tests have been snatched up quickly at locations like local health units and hospitals.

“They’re in high demand,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Twitter. “We are expecting additional supplies based upon the state’s purchase of at-home tests.”

People are also continuing to line up at testing sites like hospitals. Hutchinson noted the number of tests reported Thursday also reached with a new high, with 16,650 PCR tests and 4,905 antigen tests conducted.

The number of people hospitalized remains relatively small, but is growing steadily, further straining facilities already struggling with employee shortages. 66 additional hospitalizations Thursday brought the total statewide to 1,251. The number of patients on ventilators grew by three to 170.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock reached 80 patients being treated for COVID-19 on Thursday, matching its previous all-time high set last summer, said spokesperson Leslie Taylor.

“It doesn't look like this number is slowing down. We just increase by more and more and more patients every day,” she said in an interview with KUAR News.

On the same day last week, UAMS had 50 patients, Taylor said. Two weeks earlier it had 33 patients.

The key difference now, Taylor said, is that the omicron variant is not making people as sick as the delta variant was last summer. Of the 80 patients it had on Thursday, 10 were in the intensive care unit. On Aug. 2, when there were 73 patients, 33 were in the ICU.

But the number of patients, mixed with an existing staffing shortage and having some employees who tested positive for the virus out sick is further stressing UAMS’ capacity, she said.

“We're just trying to utilize our resources the very, very best that we can, but this is hard on our staff,” Taylor said. “We're trying to maximize the staffing that we have. So, our nurses and techs and pharmacists and doctors and people are really helping us out by concentrating on those areas where we have the greatest need. We've also asked our nonclinical employees to pitch in, so we've asked folks to volunteer to go up on the floors and answer the phone to answer patient call lights.”

Copyright 2022 KASU

As News Director, Michael Hibblen oversees daily news coverage for KUAR. He handles assignments for the news staff, helps develop story ideas and edits copy. Michael isresponsible for starting a news-sharing partnership between public radio stations in Arkansas in 2009 which laid the foundation for what became Arkansas Public Media. He is also a regular panelist and fill-in host on AETN's Arkansas Week, where journalists discuss issues in the news.