Arkansas will face the omicron variant with one of the lowest full vaccination rates in the country as medics warn the state should brace for another deadly wave of coronavirus.
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Infectious disease experts say the omicron variant could strain and even overwhelm the state’s hospital system, straining already tired healthcare workers and decreasing care for non-coronavirus patients.
The unvaccinated are at risk of suffering the most from an omicron outbreak, experts warn.
“There are, frankly, a lot of people who think they are going to be alive on New Years or in January who will not be alive or who will be in the hospital,” said Dr Greg Poland, professor of medicine. and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Overall, 50.8% of Arkansas’ total population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday. It is the seventh lowest rate in the country.
Doctors continue to urge people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. People vaccinated should be given a booster, they said.
The state’s vaccination rate remains stubbornly low, despite calls from public health experts, months of widespread vaccine availability and an event tour by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Nationally, the omicron variant has injected new uncertainty into the holiday season, raising questions about how friends and families should come together for the celebrations.
Some places, like New York and New Jersey, are seeing a sharp upturn in their coronavirus cases. New York has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, at 71.1%. New Jersey is just behind at 69.9%.
With Arkansas’ low vaccination rates, it would be a “miracle” if the state’s hospital system were not overrun, the Mayo Clinic’s Poland said. He said omicron would likely spread after the holidays.
“You will have a big increase which will lead to a lot of hospitalizations, deaths and illnesses,” he said.
Dr Robert Hopkins, chief of the University of Arkansas’ division of general internal medicine for medical sciences, said he believed Arkansas would likely experience a record number of cases and record hospitalizations and deaths from coronaviruses.
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Hopkins, who is a professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at UAMS College of Medicine, expects Arkansas to see a rapid rise in infections. He said he was worried that hospitals could again be overflowing with patients.
“You obtain [an] increase in influenza cases, increase in covid cases. It’s the potential for us to have a real disaster by not having enough hospital beds to take care of these people, ”he said.
In addition, there are health workers who have been fighting the virus for almost two years.
“I am very concerned about maintaining a strong and robust healthcare workforce in our state as we enter a new wave,” Hopkins said.
There are initial reports that suggest omicron causes severe disease in a lower percentage of cases compared to the delta variant and earlier variants, said Dr Jessica Justman, associate professor of medicine in epidemiology at the Mailman School. of Public Health at Columbia University.
But because omicron can infect so many people, hospital systems can still be overwhelmed even though a smaller percentage of those cases require hospitalization, she said.
People should wear masks in indoor public places, Justman said.
She also recommended wearing a mask in crowded outdoor environments, as omicron is a highly contagious variant.
When hospitals are overrun with coronavirus patients, routine care may be postponed and medical care may suffer for those facing medical issues unrelated to coronavirus, such as an injury from a car accident, have said the doctors.
When procedures such as colonoscopies are delayed, a patient may eventually lose the ability to detect cancer at an early stage, Justman said.
Larry Shackelford, president and CEO of Washington Regional in Fayetteville, expressed confidence in the hospital’s ability to have enough doctors and nurses to handle an omicron wave.
They are monitoring to see what percentage of people infected with the omicron variant will require hospital care, he said, adding that it is difficult to project hospitalization volumes.
“We are certainly ready, with our phase increase plan, to direct resources as needed,” he said.
Either way, the Arkansans should be prepared for the spread of the omicron variant, experts said.
Dr. David Alain Wohl, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, called the variant a “game changer.”
“This will not spare any part of the country,” he said.