It may be too early to declare that all trendlines involving COVID-19 are favorable – which means, of course, pointing down. Our state’s public health officials, hospital administrators and private sector practitioners are warning that a suspension of caution is an invitation for another virus surge. The numbers, however, invite nonchalance, which invites – another viral push.
Just days ago, the state Department of Health reported fewer than 100 hospitalizations from the novel coronavirus, the fewest since the unseen threat began unleashing Arkansas. This undeniably encouraging update followed an announcement from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which, like other institutions equipped to handle complicated cases, had struggled to cope with the workload. COVID. Dr Cam Patterson, his chancellor, was glad his hospital did not have a single coronavirus patient that day. As a physician with more—and more up-to-date—experience in epidemiology than he would prefer, Patterson knew his census of COVID patients was almost certainly transitory; zero beds on a Monday can give way to a Tuesday with a dozen or more occupied by sick people who need not just beds but ventilators. Still, it was a signal moment for a facility that, at the height of the pandemic, was tasked with saving the lives of 100 hospital patients struggling to breathe and battling triple-digit body temperatures.
Given the better understanding of the virus by medicine at one point, UAMS had its share of success. He couldn’t save all of his COVID patients, or any hospital, anywhere. But, as elsewhere—Baxter Regional in Mountain Home, for example, and Mercy and Baptist in Fort Smith, the Medical Center in Forrest City, and major regional facilities in Jonesboro and Pine Bluff—UAMS and its central Arkansas were quick to realign their coronavirus treatment protocols with the latest advice from major research centers, public and private. Patient outcomes improved even as the number of patients continued to rise, and with it the number of Arkansans for whom clinical progress came too late, or the number who went to the emergency room too late. More than a quarter of our state’s population has contracted COVID; by mid-month, more than 11,300 had died.
That the workload could increase again is not only possible, but quite likely, just short of the inevitable. The new omicron BA.2 sub-variant has crossed Europe and Asia and is now delivering patients to hospitals in the Northeastern United States. If, due to prior exposure, immunity levels across the country are on the rise, vaccination rates are at best static and deficient among older Arkansans, too few of whom have received even a a single dose of COVID vaccine, not to mention the first of two recommended boosters.
Nonchalance? Or a disdain for medical “experts” and an insistence on “individual liberty” and “parental rights”?
Consider some expert findings, almost ignored amid wartime Eastern Europe and Supreme Court confirmation hearings in Washington.
“In Arkansas from August to October 2021, districts with universal mask requirements had a 23% lower incidence of COVID-19 among staff and students compared to districts without mask requirements” , said the report, a research effort of Arkansas health care agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Among the 26 districts that transitioned from a no-mask policy to any policy (full or partial) during the survey, incidences of COVID-19 for students and staff members were higher than those of the community during the period without a mask policy,” the study continued. . “However, within a week of a mask policy being put in place, the incidence among students and staff has dropped significantly. Although the incidence among community members has dropped at the same time, it There was a significantly higher incidence reduction rate among students and staff than among community members.
Even after adjusting for variables such as population density and poverty levels, the scientists said they couldn’t come to any conclusions other than the one they pointed out to the public from the early hours of the pandemic: masking prevents the spread of COVID. Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, white or black or Hispanic or Asian, young or old – masking works. Imperfectly, perhaps, and certainly not as a replacement for vaccination. But it works.
Mindful of encouraging rates of COVID hospitalizations, Patterson was careful to observe that in Arkansas, “we’re not off the hook.” A fellow physician, this one in San Francisco, made an even more pithy comment. “(T)there are many parts of the country that will not return to cautious mode. It is wishful thinking to believe that we will remain in as good a situation as the one in which we are now.
Steve Barnes is the host of “Arkansas Week” on Arkansas PBS.