Arkansas’ governor on Thursday warned the state faced “difficult” decisions if the state’s hospitals run out of space because of a surge in coronavirus cases.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson repeated his resistance to additional restrictions on businesses, despite the state hitting a record number of hospitalizations and growth in cases. The governor called adhering to social distancing and the state’s mask mandate the first solution, but said he’s watching hospital capacity closely.
“The only thing that will trigger anything is that if we don’t have any hospital space to deal with,” Hutchinson said in a discussion with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the Arkansas Municipal League broadcast live on Facebook. “Then you have to start making some very, very difficult decisions that you don’t want to have to make.”
The Department of Health said Arkansas’ probable and confirmed virus cases rose Thursday by 1,809 to 128,006, one of the highest jumps the state has seen since the virus began. The state reported its biggest one-day spike in cases on Wednesday.
The state’s COVID-19 deaths rose by 18 to 2,144 and its hospitalizations rose by four to 805. The actual number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested and people can carry the virus but not feel sick.
About 26% of the state’s 9,144 hospital beds and nearly 8% of its 1,080 intensive care unit beds are available, according to the Department of Health. There are 295 COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the state.
Hutchinson didn’t elaborate on the difficult decisions on the table. The Republican governor said he planned to announce a task force to look at ways to address the virus’s growth and hospitalizations over the winter
“In terms of economic pause, it’s not what we want, I don’t expect that to happen, but whenever you’re dealing with this virus, you’ve got to keep options on the table and not foreclose anything,” Hutchinson said.
Arkansas is among a handful of states that never issued a stay-at-home order during the pandemic, but has a mask mandate and other restrictions.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force this week said 76% of Arkansas’ counties have moderate or high community transmission, and health experts said they’re worried about the situation worsening over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The state’s health secretary this week strongly discouraged families from taking family members out of nursing homes to celebrate the holiday. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement issued recommendations for Thanksgiving, including keeping it to household members only if possible and eliminating unnecessary exposure starting Saturday by restricting activities such as travel, shopping and dining out.
“Clearly the risk is growing and we do not have control of the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, the center’s president and CEO. “Our hospital leaders are asking for help, our state leaders are asking for help. I think it’s important for each of us to do our parts.”