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Arkansas hospitals urged to 'dust off their pandemic plans'

"It's not appropriate to test everyone. We want to avoid a situation where we're testing preemptively asymptomatic patients because they're afraid."

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — One of the state's top emergency medicine specialists reinforced calls for Arkansas hospitals to "dust off their pandemic plans" with coronavirus cases growing in surrounding states.

"Until we know more about the virus and how it's transmitted, there's still a lot of work to be done," said Dr. Kuyer S. Vyas, an infectious disease specialist with UAMS during a seminar on the virus that's spread across the globe in a little more than two months.

The meeting brought together doctors and nurses from the Department of Health and from the state's largest teaching hospital. It focused on addressing fellow health care providers and their concerns once cases arrive and potentially spread in communities here.

Dr. Vyas answered a question from a pharmacist on what to tell someone who came to his store claiming to have symptoms.

"If they don't need to be seen because of the level of their illness, the best thing would be for them to go home and call their health care provider," he said.

That is a message experts have sought to reinforce because health care providers will want advance notice that a potential case could show up at their door.

It will also help determine how testing resources will be deployed.

"It's not appropriate to test everyone," said Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the state medical director overseeing outbreak response. "We want to avoid a situation where we're testing preemptively asymptomatic patients because they're afraid."

The panelists continue to refer to past experiences with things like SARS and H1N1 and how they work annually with the flu. Members of the public hear how much COVID-19 resembles the flu and take that as a sign to relax. Care providers can't.

"The flu has been around for such a long time," said Dr. Jerrilyn Jones, the emergency specialist who issued the quote about pandemic plans. "Because we have pharmaceutical counter measures, that's one of the reasons the flu is probably neglected. And this obviously is something new and sexy."

Even with all the technology at hand, experts say the public has the tools to stay safe by properly washing our hands. Michelle Roberts, the nurse who leads the infectious disease planning at UAMS gave a demonstration of how to properly use hand sanitizer, emphasizing washing your fingertips with the gel first before rubbing it into your palms.

Dr. Dillaha shared the latest stats on the outbreak with 80% of infected people ending up with a mild case. Fifteen percent got severe cases and five percent went critical. It's from that smallest group where most of the deaths happened, and that group was overwhelmingly older or had heart disease, diabetes, or respiratory problems.

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