201222_COVID-19 Press Briefing
8:34PM Jan 7, 2021
Governor Asa Hutchinson
Dr. Jose Romero
Brett Rains - 40/29
Dr. Ivy Pfeffer - ADE
Troy Wells - Baptist Health
Mike McNeil - MagnoliaReporter.com
Jay Bir - KARK 4/Fox 16
David Ramsey - ANNN
long term care
Afternoon, Eddie, good to see you.
Thank you for joining me for today's weekly COVID. Update. And I first want to wish everybody a good holiday under challenging circumstances. And sometimes it's easy to forget that this is an important season of the year for families for communities. And it's been changed this year. So let's just remember each other, whether it is by zoom or whether it is in prayer, or whether we have the opportunity be in person, I want to thank Dr. Romero for Department of Health for being with us here today. Troy wells, CEO of Baptist Health Systems, we'll have some comments IV Pfeffer, representing the Department of Education and Secretary Johnny key. And AJ Kelly, our Director of emergency management, who's really done a great job of planning, of looking at the future and helping us guide us through this pandemic. First, I want to give the overall case report for today. So if you could show the first graph, it'll give you a picture as to where we are today. And this in terms of total cases, we have an additional 1941 new cases of COVID-19 that combines both the confirmed cases and the probable cases, the confirmed cases as an increase of 1110. And the increase in probable cases by antigen testing is 831 for the total of 1941 new cases. Now obviously, this is up from yesterday, it is down from a week ago, which we measure it because there is a trend, day by or week by week, day by day. The active cases are down 179. very sadly. And it's troubling to me that we have 43 additional deaths. And that number remains way too high for us. very concerned about that. But it's a result of increased cases increase hospitalizations. We actually increase cases that we've seen even our hospitalizations has been fairly flat over the last couple of weeks. In terms of the hospitalizations, we did have an increase of 25. From yesterday, we'll talk more about that. We've had the testing was very high on the antigen tests of 4010. Our PCR test was 7869. We only had one county that was over 200 cases. Pulaski Washington followed that with Benton, saline and White County. I was speaking to the mayor McGill of Fort Smith yesterday and they they follow Sebastian county and they just said they're glad they're out of the top five. And so if you remember Sebastian county has been up there and I started noticing that they dropped down again in illustration that you can make progress. And I applaud them for moving out of that top five. With that, let me come back based upon those cases and make some comments. First of all, the hope for the future is the vaccines. And I'm delighted that we have the vaccines that are coming in for our nursing home residents and our staff and the nursing home. Rachel bunch showed me a picture of one of the staff members I believe it was and Batesville getting a vaccine and a long term care facility that's going to continue. They said their big rollout is going to be next Monday in terms of a larger scale vaccination and they will be training between now and then. So that's happening at this present time. Of course, our focus has been on our health care workers and we now have as of this morning 12,969 health care workers that have received the vaccine been given the vaccine since we started getting that distribution a little over a week ago. We've have received our allocations for next week in terms of the vaccine. And in terms of Pfizer. We will be receiving 23,400 new doses of the Pfizer vaccine and that will be in addition to what They will ship us for the second dose of those that have already received the first dose of the Madonna vaccine, which will go to our pharmacies to utilize for our long term care residents. That is, we'll be receiving 17,700 of those doses that will be utilized for long term care residents. This is all great news. I know everybody's asking the question, when is my turn? When will we as an essential worker, be able to do it? Dr. Romero and his team are working very diligently with Dr. delahaye. on making, making sure we have it just right in terms of our priorities, and who will be in category one, B, and who will be in one C. And we want to make sure that we hear from everybody as we finalize those priorities. But for now, we're still in one A, which would be the health care workers, the long term care residents and staff, and then the emergency service workers as well. We'll be vaccinated. I did want to talk about hospital capacity, because as you can see, we're up 25. Now, in our conversations, everybody actually expected the hospitalizations to be higher than they are right now. And that we are in better, we are better than expected position right now. Now, I say that because our cases have gone up significantly, our hospitalization has not gone up at the near the same rate. And so it's illustrated by the fact that our Veterans Hospital, as you recall, I authorized 30 days of utilization of our VA hospital space, which gave us an additional eight beds, only two of those beds have been utilized. And so our existing capacity has been able to manage the current caseload. But we don't know, with 25. More today, we don't know what the rest of December is going to be like, we don't know what January is going to be like because we don't know what Christmas is going to be like. And with the Thanksgiving spike in which I thought everybody tried real hard. But Christmas, we're trying hard. But if we are not successful, then we're going to see another spike after Christmas, and we have to be prepared for it. And so for that reason, today, I am announcing that I have authorized an alternative care site to be constructed to be built out, as in in addition to funding additional bed space, through a partnership with Baptist Health Systems. This will provide 124 new beds. Some of those will be ICU beds, some of those will be regular hospital beds that can be utilized. And this will be in Van Buren and in Central Arkansas, this will be managed by our COVID comm systems so that we can allocate to this additional space patients that are in need, because of COVID from across the state, this build out will cost $7.4 million. We hope that FEMA will cover 80% of that. And we're prepared to cover the 20% of our cost share by the state as well through previously funded appropriations to our emergency management team. This is important because even though it's going to take some time to build this out, we have to be ready for whatever comes in January, it is my hope that we will build this out. And we will not have to utilize those bands for COVID patience. But it is prudent upon me as governor to make sure we have that adequate space if the need arises. And so knowing how challenging this time is, we want to make sure that we take that step to build out that additional space. And with that, Troy, let me thank you for your partnership and help and doing this. This is one of the recommendations of our winter COVID task force that Troy serves on. They all support this. And this partnership. Troy Why don't you elaborate.
Good afternoon. Thank you, Governor. We're happy to be working with the governor's office, the Arkansas Department of Health and Department of Emergency Management on this project since the beginning of the pandemic, you know, we've had several challenges present us as a healthcare community, whether it was PP our testing capacity or bed capacity. We've talked about nursing resources in the past and we've solved many of those challenges throughout the course of the year. For more With the state, and all the health care systems in Arkansas, and today we're here just talking about one more step, one more challenge we're trying to solve and that is bed capacity. Obviously. The This is not the only thing that we are at least studying considering the winner task force will continue to look for other alternative care sites should the need arise. We think that this opportunity that we're talking about today, gives us some more runway gives us some more capacity. Before we have to make any further decisions or recommendations on expansion around the state. Let me just speak briefly about the two sites that we're talking about today. The john Gilbert conference center as a conference center on the Baptist Health Little Rock campus that will be converted into 50 patient beds, they'll all be negative air, and we'll be able to accommodate COVID-19 patients. That project will take about four to five weeks to complete. But that work began last week, once we had verbal agreement to move forward. The Van Buren facility. When we acquired this facility in 2018, it had limited inpatient capacity, but it was licensed for more beds need some work some renovation to create the negative airflow capacity that we need for treating COVID-19 patients. That project will take a little bit more time six to eight weeks, perhaps but it will be phased in such a way that if we need the beds sooner, we'll have some of those units up and running. And that expansion of 74 inpatient beds will also include a critical care or ICU beds, the benefits of working on these sites for this project, really the biggest benefit, it's it allows us for the easiest means for scaling all the ancillary services and other clinical services that are needed when you have hospitalized patients. So it's one thing to find nurses, which we still have to work on our plan to do that that's actively being worked on. But it's another thing to provide pharmacy and respiratory care, nutrition and food services, environmental services, lab diagnostic imaging, all those services, being co located with these expansions, will really help us provide that much more easy rather than try to recreate that in an offsite locations. So that's the main benefit from doing it this way. Governor, I'm happy to hang around for any questions that might come up.
That might be the case. Troy's so thank you. And I'll ask Dr. Romero to come now. Before I go through more slides in terms of our our cases, but Dr. Romero, first of all, we're very proud of your work on the CDC advisory committee that set a national recommendation in terms of immunization priorities. And he's been a national leader in that regard, but also a great partner here as we're managing through this pandemic. And Dr. Mayer, won't you come and make your comments?
Good afternoon. Thank you, governor for those kind words. So I want to focus today on pre emptive steps for trying to keep our senior citizens out of the hospital if they are infected. And again, I want to go back to what we've talked about in the past. That is we have a large supply, a ready supply of monoclonal antibodies available for use in the community outside of the hospital in it. And this will allow us to prevent admission to the hospital and may actually benefit the patient significantly. So for those patients that are of the right age 65 or older and have medical conditions, and are diagnosed with COVID, they should reach out to their providers early in their disease and contact them to see if they're eligible for these therapies, we are going to try to make these available through other venues that other than just an emergency room or an infusion center over the next few weeks. But these are there, they have been shown to be effective. And we want to have the public know about it and we'll be reaching out to the physicians, our vaccine rollout and I'm gonna change a little bit to vaccines. Our vaccine rollout has gone well, you know, we have not had any major glitches. The uptake looks about right. We're taking the doses that were received last week, about 51% of them have been already administered. We will be receiving as the governor said more vaccines. I want to stress to those health care providers and those individuals that are eligible for this because they are either working in a long term care facility or a residence in a lawn care facility. These vaccines have been studied well. They've been shown to be safe and efficacious. And I want you to consider receiving these vaccines sooner rather than later. We are continuing to follow the safety of these vaccines. Post administration we know that we are seeing some cases of allergic reaction as of last Sunday, this past Sunday, six such reactions occurred in this country. Those individuals all recovered And we're watching for them very, very carefully. And lastly, then just the usual admonition, we are entering into the holiday season, that season in which we tend to gather with our family and friends, I really encourage you to limit your gathering to family to the nuclear family, and not bring in individuals. And avoid large crowds use the mask even when indoors. Okay, so wear the mask, continue to social distance, we're seeing a lot of transmission in these small gatherings in these homes. And of course, wash your hands. So with that, I'll turn it back over to the governor. Thank you, sir.
Long that line, today, the Department of Health will be posting the directee for indoor venues in which we've talked about this for a couple of weeks, we want to get it right. And I want to emphasize that this simply reduces from 100 to 10. The size of a crowd that will trigger prior approval or a plan to be submitted and approved by the Department of Health. This is to go after though the indoor venues to make sure they're safe. Let me emphasize a couple points. This does not mean that we can't have indoor venues as larger than 10 people, it just simply means you have to have a good plan approved by the Department of Health to make sure it's safe. And that you have your distancing, you have your master requirements, and the other things that are necessary to make sure that venue is safe. And then secondly, just we want to make sure it was clear that this does not apply to places of worship, retail businesses, community or school sponsored sports, restaurants and bars, residents, residences, all of those things either are not regulated, or they're covered by another directive. And so restaurants, for example, has their own directive. But this is those for the commercial venues. That might be having an indoor gathering of more than 10 people just have your plan approved by the Department of Health. Because this is new, we want to make it effective. On January 2, it'll run through March one. But we want to be prepared for first of the year, and make this plan to give everybody an opportunity to make sure they can adjust toward that. With that. Let me take it through the slides very quickly. You can see the trend line that we again, you can see where we are today compared to a week ago is better. It's up obviously from yesterday. Next, and this is week over week, this week, or this most preceding week, we were up over the preceding week. And so we hope that it goes down this coming week and we think we have a chance for that hospitalization. As you can see, we're actually at the largest number of hospitalizations because of COVID. Since the pandemic began, PCR test, we came down a little bit and so I'm hopeful that you'll see the positivity rate for our PCR tests go down. But that's something we have to watch carefully. We're above the 10% mark, which we don't like. Next is our antigen test. And of course, that's a seven day rolling average is much higher people are utilizing that they have a higher positivity rate for those that take an antigen test. Next, we want to show you how we're testing where 263,000 PCR tests have been given, taken this month, along with the next slide, which is the antigen test to 59,000 which means we're not even through the month we've done well over 300,000 which is one 10th of our population in one month. We're testing robustly. It helps us to identify isolate the positive cases.
And this is just the train line for our regions. And the really all of them are up. One thing that is noteworthy is that the Northeast Arkansas health region has come down a bit so that it allowed Central Arkansas that trended up to exceed the number of cases in the northeast. And, and so just a reminder in Central Arkansas, it's a challenge for us, but all of those are Up Northwest included. And the next one shows it percent wise and growth which is a little bit different because that's the other one was the new cases, this is the percent growth in cases. And Central Arkansas is growing at 9.3% from December 13, to December 19, northeast 8.4%, Northwest 7.9%. All growth, but you can see where central is the largest percentage growth. And with that, I'm delighted to have Ivy Pfeffer here and IV, I'm just gonna let you answer questions that might come up on the education front, if you can hold off for that. And with that, we'll happy to take any questions.
I guess in terms of the vaccine rollout, what are some of those criteria that are being looked at? to sort of figure out who's next in line?
I'll start and then Dr. Romero, obviously, our resident expert can comment on that. But the one a is set, which is our health care workers, long term care workers, our emergency management workers, our service providers, but it's one B when you get into the essential workers, and that the CDC made a distinction on essential workers, those that are frontline, and those that are more at their very essential, but they're in the not on the front line, like a grocery store clerk or somebody who's working in a poultry house. And so that's sort of the current discussion to make sure we get that right. And then the other one is, of course, the elderly, and aware the those that are over 75, and where they should be because they're the ones that most vulnerable. So that's the current discussion. We'll have more information on that next week. But Dr. Romero, why don't you comment on that.
So as mentioned, the one a is already set, one B was determined in part because of the major factor was the issue of vaccine, we don't have enough vaccine for everyone. So the category that was originally thought of was as the essential worker, but we clearly know that individuals 65 years and above are at greater morbidity and mortality for disease. So modeling based on the number of vaccine available, modeling on live saved, led to the compromise, if you will, of tearing the essential workers into two tiers. Those that are really at the frontline. And those include areas and excuse me for reading this because it's better for me to read into do not remember, it's the first responders, education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections workers, postal workers, transit workers, and grocery store workers, those would be in that first tier. So those go in there, then the data indicated that you would get maximum benefit, minimum harm by using the vaccine in those individuals that are over 75. And so by combining those two, you come up with a reasonable number of individuals in the American the US population that can be served by the vaccine that's available. Now, we understand that there may be changes going on, and that will depend on how much vaccine is available. So if we get another vaccine, if Pfizer and maternal ramp up their productions and have more vaccine, we'll be able to do that. All of this is a recommendation from the CDC to the governor's, we understand that at a local level, there may be need for change. And that is acceptable. But we have tried to provide the governors with a framework through which they can they can go back and say it is scientifically or epidemiologically sound recommendations, so that they can go back on that and look and see how that fits each population. You stayed.
Thank you. And it's the CDC guidelines are extraordinarily helpful. But I think it's important, not that I look at them and say we need to make an adjustment. But I want to have Dr. delahaye and a vaccine committee listen to and have that considered by all the impacted populations in Arkansas, so they can comment on it as well. And so that's the process that we're going through. And we've got a little time because we're still in category one. Is there a question from our guests remotely?
I have a question that is along those
same lines about the vaccine Distribution plans. This is Samantha with K NWA. I talked to Mercy Hospital this morning. They say they're making great progress on vaccinating workers. And you've just mentioned today, you have vaccinated over 12,000 workers across the state. At what point can we expect to move into phase one? b? No. Romero, do
you have an answer to that?
So again, it depends on each state, the general thought is that when we have reached 80% saturation, that is if we immunize 80% of the high risk groups in that first tier, we can move on, or if we see demand fall off. So if there's a decrease in the amount of demand over time, then we will move on to the next one. That would be the one B, my thoughts are that it's going to take us four to six weeks, at least, to get through this first phase. We're doing very well. But let's see how we do over the next couple of weeks.
Thank you. Next question. Governor.
This is David Ramsey with the Arkansas nonprofit News Network. Two questions. First, obviously, you know, you have this alternative Care Center coming up coming up. In the meantime, we've seen the number of available ICU beds go to much lower numbers in recent days after kind of being in the 70s and 80s. For some weeks, it fell to a record low 37 available statewide on Friday. And at least at certain points, some regions in the state have had zero ICU beds available at all. So I guess Could you speak to do you have any sort of concerns about that? Are we? I mean, it seems like things have shifted? Or are we reaching kind of a crisis point in terms of making sure that everyone has prompt access to quality care if they have critical care needs? And second question, just related to the to that alternative care site. So there's going to be 124 new beds, can you speak to the challenge, it seems like in general has been staffing? Can you speak to how there are going to be enough staff resources to demand those beds?
I'm gonna let Troy answer that in the latter part of the question. On the first part of the question. That's the reason that we've had to develop a statewide management system called COVID, calm so that when one area of the state does not have an ICU bed, then we can make sure that they can be assigned to a hospital that has available space. And again, we haven't reached the breaking point because we have capacity at our VA hospital here in little rock that has ICU beds, we've only utilized two there. And so we have more space that's there, in addition to our existing structure. And then obviously, that is the reason that we're having our alternative care site and additional space that's being managed and built. Troy
one additional comment on the ICU availability within the next probably two, three weeks at Baptist Health will be expanding to another 30 ICU beds that will be available. So that should be helpful in turn, relative to where we are today and what's available today. 30 more beds will certainly be be good for Arkansas. To your other question. It was staffing related, both on the ICU front and then on the alternative care side. We're all actively recruiting now for more critical care nurses for more nurses in general that can serve at the bedside. There's nursing staff, and there's that ancillary staff, the good news is the ancillary staff, we can stretch to cover more in the existing hospitals where we're expanding nursing. We don't have that plan fully developed yet. We're working on that now, both for these alternative care sites, and quite frankly, for the rest of the expandable surge plans that hospitals have here in Arkansas today.
I'm sorry if I missed it, but can you quickly say how many ICU beds are going to be at the at the two sites, the alternative care sites and windows are going to be expected to be available
ICU beds if those two sides
so there's, we're talking about two different things there. There's the announcement that the governor made today with our build out at the Gilbert center and then our Van Buren hospital, the Van Buren hospital will have eight ICU capable beds available for COVID patients in that facility. In addition to that and responding to your first question, Baptist Health is opening up another 30 ICU beds in the coming weeks. That's separate apart from the project that the governor announced today.
In Governor 4020 Well,
let me just with the Troy correct me if I'm wrong here, but while we have eight designated ICU beds in, in the Van Buren facility, that the fact that you have, what is 116 other beds that are available also frees up some space in the event, you need to have additional ICU beds in the elsewhere. Alright, so it builds a little bit of a partnership capacity there. Next question,
on Magnolia reporter.com, small businesses in Arkansas have endured pretty significant losses due to COVID. In 10 days, they're going to face another blow and the state's minimum wage rises to $11 an hour, will you seek a minimum wage increase moratorium due to the current emergency?
No, I have not considered that ours is set by a constitutional amendment. So that would not be something that I am considering or would consider. And that's not driving the concerns that I've heard from small businesses, they are struggling. But there's a lot of different factors in that. And of course, that does impact their wage rates as well. But I'm delighted that Congress in a bipartisan way, came together and provided small business relief. That was one of my priorities through the paycheck protection plan. But also it will be additional funding that will help the states that can help as well. And so we're still waiting on some details there, but that should be beneficial. Next question.
Governor Express rings, can you hear me sir?
Yes, thank you to clarify Van Buren, that is Van Buren, Arkansas, the Fort Smith River Valley region for that second center, correct?
And please, I'm assuming there's specific details for that little rock and this area, you want two centers, kind of serving large parts of the state? Is that correct? Can you expand on that? I have a second question once you do.
That's right. And of course, you think Well, those are Central Arkansas. I think you understand the other one Van Buren. It's available space. And you know, Chris barber at St. Bernard's in Jonesboro understands that if they get in a crunch, this is space that's going to have to be available to northeast Arkansas as well. And so this is a team effort. And while we don't like those distances, that's not the ideal part of the world. This will help a great deal by having this additional space available in those locations.
Thank you so much. My second question was concerning the UAE Ms. Report bi weekly report released today, that said a large majority are Kansans in the state are willing to comply with mitigation efforts once mandated. But without mandates, it seems some are Kansans are not consistently using life saving public health practices. Are you familiar with that? And what's your take? Can you expand what does that mean? Because I know we have bass mandates. We have a large number of mandates. But what do you take that to me?
Well, first of all, I think that came out today, I haven't reviewed it. I look forward to reviewing it's always helpful insights. And, and we look at what they see into the future. But in terms of mandates, you're right. We already have restrictions on restaurant capacity, gymnasium capacity, sporting events, capacity, we have all kinds of mandates and restrictions that are in place. We put in another one that today that helps us to make sure proper health controls or even in small indoor venues. And so we're addressing it, I, I travel, I go in Arkansas, I go out I go to the store, I see a credible amount of compliance with the mask mandate with social distancing with what the businesses are put into place. I'm sure it varies, but I've been very impressed with all our Kansans have been able to do during this time in in really following the guidance that we have provided. All right, so Jay,
here's an extension now. Stay tuned until the next calendar year to be able to spend that money. Is there anything that you want to see that committee maybe look into further?
Well, one, we need to Wait and see exactly all the details of the Congressional bill, for example, my understanding is that there's I think it's 15 billion nationwide, that's put into additional broadband funding. And so that's certainly something we will look at. There's a lot of legislative support for additional funding for broadband, which is necessary in our schools during this time, as well as for our small businesses. So we'll continue to look at the needs that are there. They're separate money for rental assistance for food banks. And so we'll see how that money flows and what decisions we have to make as a state. Let me take advantage of that, because I know that the Department of Education is looking at that funding that might come to education. And so I think once you come here and take advantage to give a little report.
Thank you, Governor, good afternoon. And we too, are looking for more information and a better understanding of the way those education and dollars will be both sent out to the states to the schools. And I'm also looking at with any portion that is allowed for a state set aside, what would be the best use of those funds to meet the needs of students? You know, I think that we all realize we've had a we've we've had successes school year that we probably really were not all expecting to have. And that's because of all the efforts that have been put into place. But we know that there are a lot of things that schools are doing now that they've had to learn differently. I think the ongoing technology needs will have to continue to be prioritized. We want to make sure that school districts have access to testing as they need in order to continue to make good decisions about whether or not they are able to continue on on site learning or need to make pivots based on their staffing needs. We also know that they've done a lot of work with putting in systems in place for contact tracing. And that will continue as we return. But overall, we feel very good about the success we've had we feel very good about the partnership and the support that has been provided to schools and will continue to be provided.
One last question,
if there is one.
I guess, for this new directive, is there any additional staffing being utilized at ADH to kind of go through some of those applications because you figure with the cutoff being 10. And there might be a little bit of an influx
in speaking with Dr. Romero and Terry Paul, that they have adequate staff because a lot of the events slowed down naturally because of our increased cases. And so their workload in terms of review is to the point they can manage this additional requests that might come in. Let me end on this again. We want victory over this pandemic. And there's two V's as a key to victory over the pandemic. And that is the vaccine, which we're working hard on. And secondly, it's vigilance. And we hope that everybody will be vigilant during this Christmas season so that we can have victory and get to the vaccine. Thank you all very much.