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Weather slowing shots, testing

But staying home aids in distancing by Jeannie Roberts | February 16, 2021 at 7:03 a.m.
Nurses Mandy Stuckey (left) and Tonya Green conduct a coronavirus screening in April at a drive-thru site at New Life Church in North Little Rock. The site, and one at Ouachita Baptist Universityin Arkadelphia, is a partnership between two Arkansas companies. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The impact of winter weather on the state's battle against covid-19 has been both bad and good, said state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha.

Icy, snow-covered roads have kept people at home indoors, thus reducing the spread of the virus, but have also slowed down the level of testing and the distribution of the vaccine, she said.

"We can expect that vaccines will continue to be made available. Local providers are having to adapt their schedules due to the weather, so be aware of your local providers' plans," Dillaha said. "Vaccinators are still receiving a steady number of doses."

The number of new daily covid-19 cases fell to 320 Monday, continuing the downward trajectory of the past few days, but testing was at the lowest number seen in six weeks.

The state Department of Health reported receiving results from a total 4,439 PCR and antigen tests of Arkansas that were conducted Sunday -- the lowest testing number reported since Jan. 4, when 4,912 tests were announced.

"As we expected, testing was down yesterday and will probably be down today due to the weather," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Twitter on Monday afternoon. "Please limit travel, keep yourself safe, and remember to take necessary precautions against COVID-19."

Dillaha said she is concerned that the weather will prevent people from getting the care when they need it, and having access to treatments like monoclonal antibodies.

The Health Department's local health units were closed Monday because of the holiday, George Washington's Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day. Some units also closed last week because of icy roads.

Dillaha said an announcement would be made today on whether the health units would be closed because of the weather.

"[Vaccine] distribution into the state and to local providers remains steady," Dillaha said. "The primary concern is the ability to administer the vaccines because of the weather."

SECOND SHOTS

Arkansans who miss getting a scheduled vaccine dose because of the weather can be rescheduled with the provider, Dillaha said.

Also, for those who have already received their first vaccination, there is no maximum time after the first dose before it's too late to get the second dose, Dillaha said.

No matter how long a person waits before getting a second dose, he or she does not have to start the vaccination process all over again, she added.

"If people need to reschedule their second shot, they should just get it again as possible so they can be protected as soon as possible," Dillaha said.

Baptist Health spokeswoman Cara Wade said the system's Little Rock covid vaccination clinic will be open today for those with appointments, but they are trying to reschedule as many of those patients as possible.

"Their safety is of the utmost importance," Wade said. "Most of these appointments were to receive the second Pfizer vaccine, so we are reminding them that it is still safe and effective to get the second dose of Pfizer up to six weeks [42 days] after the first dose."

St. Bernards Medical Center spokesman Mitchell Nail said the Jonesboro hospital has rescheduled vaccine appointments for older individuals this week to keep them from traveling in hazardous conditions.

"While St. Bernards Medical Center remains open around the clock, some of our outlying facilities are opening later and closing earlier due to the weather," Nail said, adding that, outside of an emergency situation, telemedicine is highly encouraged.

[Interactive Arkansas map not showing up above? Click here to see it: arkansasonline.com/arvirus]

"A provider can determine whether you need face-to-face, follow-up care," he said.

Covid-19 vaccination and testing clinics at UAMS locations were not held Monday and will be closed again today because of the weather, UAMS spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said.

"The clinic is going very well with more than 6,500 vaccinations for the public and more than 22,000 overall," Taylor said. "We will reopen the public vaccination clinic as soon as the weather improves and driving conditions are safe."

The UAMS vaccination clinic is moving permanently on Saturday to the Centre at University Park on 12th Street in Little Rock, Taylor said.

"We are doing this in partnership with the city of Little Rock," Taylor said. "This is a larger location that will allow us to vaccinate as many as 1,000 people a day, providing we have enough vaccine supply."

The Moderna vaccine clinics for Arkansas State University employees set for today were postponed because of the weather, the university announced in a news release. Emails will be sent by the pharmacies to the employees to reschedule the appointments.

According to the Health Department, pharmacies and other providers participating in the vaccination effort being coordinated by the state had received 719,000 doses of vaccine as of Monday morning. There were no deliveries of the vaccine on Monday because of the holiday.

Hospitals, long-term care facilities, pharmacies (except for Walgreens, CVS and Walmart) and other health care providers reported having administered 455,089 of those, up 3,175 from the number as of Sunday.

In addition, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart reported having administered 22,959 doses, an increase of 270 from the number as of a day earlier.

HOSPITAL BEDS

There were 21 more available hospital beds on Monday, going from 2,411 on Sunday to 2,432 -- a jump of 171 beds from the previous Monday when 2,261 beds were available.

The total beds -- whether filled or vacant -- remained the same at 8,771. The total includes more than 300 in psychiatric or rehabilitation facilities that aren't for covid-19 care.

That means that about 72% of the state's hospital beds are full.

Available ICU beds fell by 11, going from 122 on Sunday to 111 on Monday. Out of 1,182 critical-care beds, about 9% were available Monday afternoon.

Total bed capacity -- hospital beds that can be staffed whether or not they are occupied -- remained the same at 8,771.

Maximum flex bed capacity -- the number of hospital beds regardless of ability to staff them -- remained the same at 11,415.

Taylor said the covid-19 patient numbers are down at UAMS and on Monday were caring for 40 covid patients in the hospital with 12 in ICU.

CHI St. Vincent has seen a "moderate decline" in the number of covid-19 hospitalizations, said spokeswoman Bonnie Ward.

"Hospitals across our ministry continue to operate at a high level of capacity as we provide critical care to our communities," Ward said. "That includes compassionate care for patients with covid-19, but also many patients with a wide range of other health care needs not related to the pandemic. At this time, CHI St. Vincent hospitals remain prepared to effectively and expertly deliver care for all patients at our care sites."

BY THE NUMBERS

The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 10, bringing the cumulative deaths attributed to covid-19 to 5,275.

The number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 in the state dropped by 27 to 642 -- the lowest number seen since Nov. 4. There were 245 covid-19 patients in ICUs, seven fewer than the previous day, and also the lowest number seen since Nov. 4.

The number of cases that were considered active fell by 1,192, to 10,494, as almost 1,502 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.

There were 111 patients on ventilators, up two on Sunday and 31 fewer than the 142 reported a week ago.

Those who have ever been on a ventilator in the state with the virus rose one, to 1,475.

The state inventory of ventilators remained the same at 1,135 About 69.5%, or 789, ventilators remain available for use, 18 more than Sunday.

Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department's count of cases rose by three.

There were 3,896 polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, and 543 antigen tests reported Monday -- much lower than the previous Monday when 6,139 PCR and 573 antigen tests were recorded.

There were 57,680 PCR and antigen tests performed in the past seven days -- 19,097 less than the 76,777 reported from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Over the past seven days, 5,975 new cases were reported, a reduction of 4,904 cases from the previous seven-day period -- from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8 -- that saw 10,879 new cases.

In the past seven days, 169 Arkansans were reported as having lost their lives to the virus -- 42 less than the 211 deaths reported the previous week. Some of those deaths occurred in previous weeks.

COUNTY DATA

Pulaski County had the highest number of new cases, 64, followed by Garland County with 24; Sebastian County with 21; Lonoke County with 19; and Benton County with 17.

The county with the highest number of active cases was Pulaski County with 1,828 followed by Benton County with 845; Washington County with 689; Saline County with 526; and Faulkner County with 521.

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