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Arkansas sees increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations as vaccine rate slows

“We’re in a situation where the severity is no longer primarily among the elderly because they’re all vaccinated," Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Hospitalizations and ventilator use are the highest they have been in Arkansas since the beginning of March.

Hospitalizations have more than doubled at UAMS in the past few weeks, which is alarming for Dr. Robert Hopkins.

"We're up in the 20 [patient] range and we were down at around single digits a couple weeks ago," Dr. Hopkins said.

Nearly all of those patients are either unvaccinated or only got one dose. Dr. Hopkins worries it will only go up from here.

"We see an awful lot of behavior out in the community of people acting like COVID is no longer here and COVID is still here with us," he said.

He said a majority of those patients are young, many in their 30s and 40s. 

"That's different from what we saw even a few months ago," Dr. Hopkins said. "Now, we're seeing younger people because more of our older adults have been vaccinated."

He worries if the trend continues, UAMS may have to open up a COVID specific unit again, which closed back roughly two months ago when hospitalizations were going down in Arkansas.

"Because as numbers go up, the likelihood we’re going to have to cohort people off to protect or staff and patients is a real concern," Dr. Hopkins said.

As of Monday, 281 Arkansans are in the hospital with COVID-19. That's the highest it's been since March 10. Ventilator use is also the highest since March 11, with 67 people relying on one.

"The last analysis we did, 99 percent of the people in the hospital had not been vaccinated," Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha with the Arkansas Department of health said 33% of people in the hospital are 25 to 48 years of age. Compare that to 30% of adults 65 and up.

"So, they have surpassed the older adult," Dr. Dillaha said. “We’re in a situation where the severity is no longer primarily among the elderly because they’re all vaccinated.”

Dr. Dillaha said that is because young people in Arkansas have a low vaccination rate. Pair that with new variants starting to spread in the state, it's a major cause for concern.

"These variants appear to cause more severe disease and increased risk for hospitalization," she said. "I do anticipate [the] Delta variant will be shown to be one of the drivers in the increase in hospitalizations that we are seeing at this time.”

This is why Dr. Dillaha and Dr. Hopkins are urging younger people to get vaccinated.

"Although there's some concerns out there floating around about the vaccine, those concerns for those of us that look at the data, are far less than the concerns we have with the COVID disease," Dr. Hopkins said.

Dr. Hopkins said the increase in cases and hospitalizations may also come from Memorial Day three weeks ago, where many people were getting together at large gatherings.