By Rachell Sanchez-Smith
A resurgence of COVID-19 cases is boosting hospitalizations and ventilator usage in Arkansas, a trend that shows the pandemic continues, especially for unvaccinated people.
“Essentially no one who was fully vaccinated has been hospitalized because of a COVID infection,” said Mark Williams, dean of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Recent data from the Arkansas Department of Health shows that the amount of COVID-19 related hospitalizations nearly doubled since its decline during the spring. The statewide number of hospitalizations increased from its low of 141 on April 8, 2021 to 281 patients on June 21, 2021.
According to a COVID-19 report and forecast by the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences on June 6, the state lacks adequate surveillance data to combat the virus due to the low testing rates. In May, more than 128,170 COVID-19 tests were conducted, a large decrease from the 224,282 COVID-19 tests in March, according to ADH data. “The state may not be testing at a rate high enough to identify surging cases, particularly in rural areas where clinics especially set up for testing have ceased operations,” the UAMS report said.
Hospitalizations provide more reliable data for decision makers, but the data lacks the ability to show the unseen spread of the disease through positive asymptomatic tests, according to the UAMS forecast.
In addition, progress on vaccination is stagnating in the state, and this in turn influences hospitalization rates. Arkansas ranks third to last among the contiguous United States for its fully vaccinated population according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on June 21, 2021.
Low vaccination rates coupled with the appearance of more aggressive strains, such as the delta variant which ravaged India and the United Kingdom, have contributed to the growing number of hospitalizations. The delta variant poses an increased risk for those who remained unvaccinated, it particularly affects children and young adults.
“People that are infected [with delta variant] are more likely to end up being hospitalized than people who were infected with either the alpha variant or the original variant of the virus,” said Williams.
The delta variant currently represents nearly 6% of all COVID-19 infections in the U.S., according to the UAMS report. This poses a risk especially in high spread areas, such as schools during the incoming Fall, which children and young adults overwhelmingly represent.