Arkansas Department of Health

Arkansas Department of Health

As the state COVID numbers continue to rise, healthcare providers say they are also concerned about record hospitalization numbers. Officials with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) explain how they're able to track variant cases.

Dr. Atul Kothari with the ADH said through sequencing they are able to determine which variant each case stems from. He said the results are delayed and can take two to four weeks.

"I think having that information helps inform the public better about what percentage of patients in the hospital have a particular variant," Kothari said.

According to Kothari, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started sequencing projections last month to determine variant results. He said as more omicron cases flood the country, the CDC's projections are becoming more accurate which helps their department inform the public on variant cases.

"Sequencing is several weeks delay, and we are only just starting to see our cases rise in the hospitals, in the ICU over the past 10 days," he said. "We don't have hard data from Arkansas which I can share."

Kothari said at this time they send their COVID lab samples to the University of Minnesota. He said the department is working on setting up their own sequencing lab to get variant results faster. He said individual hospitals and their lab samples could help them with determining which variant each case comes from.

According to Kothari, each variant has a different character mutation than the other.

"People in the hospital can make a pretty reasonable guess when they see a patient that this is something different from what I've been used to seeing for the past six months," he said.

Dr. Robert Hopkins is the chief of general internal medicine for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He said they have never had so many frontline workers out due to being exposed or contracting the virus.

"We've got as of numbers today, close to 400 healthcare workers not cleared to come into work. That's a big chunk of our healthcare workforce," Hopkins said.

Officials with UAMS said as of Thursday, 735 staff members were not cleared to work out of more than 11,000 employees. Hopkins said this outbreak could cause two COVID patients to be in the same hospital room.

"This is the highest number of hospitalizations at UAMS throughout the two years of the pandemic," he said. "Omicron is not something to fool around with, this is not a cold, this is not a flu. This is a disease that causes significant mobility and mortality. Don't talk about this being less severe, let's talk about what we're gonna do to stop it."

Hopkins said as of Thursday they have a bed capacity of 95%. He said they have 80 COVID patients, 10 in ICU, and six people on ventilators.

"I keep hearing time and again, oh this is omicron this is not as bad as delta," he said. "Well for one individual that's fully vaccinated yes, omicron is not as bad as delta, but we've got more children hospitalized in this state from COVID than we've ever had before."

Officials with the department of health said they are looking out to see if the delta variant resurges with more cases. They told KATV they'll be watchful for any other variants to impact the state in the future.

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