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Top Arkansas health officials warn coronavirus pandemic is nowhere near over

"I cannot stress how the period of time over the next few weeks is critical. I am very concerned about where we could be going," Dr. Jose Romero said.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — When Gov. Asa Hutchinson shared the COVID-19 numbers on Tuesday, the tone was clear: we need to step it up. 

Now, top state and health officials are warning Arkansans that we aren't through the fire yet. 

"First of all, there's not any good news at all in this report today," Gov. Hutchinson said. 

What started out as a grim beginning to Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing set the tone for the majority of the 40-minute update. 

Dr. Jose Romero the Arkansas Secretary of Health is pleading to Arkansans.

"I cannot stress how the period of time over the next few weeks is critical. I am very concerned about where we could be going," he said. 

A concern for many after Hutchinson said the state saw a one-third increase in daily COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving holiday, which led to a 10% increase in hospitalizations. 

Romero added to the need for change.

"This is something that can have profound repercussions. We are already on a curve and if we add more cases to that, we are in danger of overwhelming our hospital system," he said.

The worry of bringing more people into care, where things are already "tight" at some major hospitals, according to UAMS Director of General Internal Medicine Dr. Robert Hopkins.

"We've had at least a few times, over the last few days, where we either had no ICU beds or no floor beds and that's very worrisome," Dr. Hopkins said.

Hopkins said these last few weeks are, by far, the worst he's seen inside their hospital walls since the pandemic started.

"We are a long way from COVID being over. We've got lots of disease circulating around our communities," he said. 

That circulation is seeing an uptick trend when it comes to recent holiday gatherings, which is why for people making plans to ring in the new year this week, doctors are urging Arkansans to play it safe.

"I am asking you all to reconsider the idea of getting together in a large group," Romero said.

"Please. Please. Think about your friends, think about your family, think about your neighbors, and let's stay home," Hopkins said.

Doctors are encouraging people to celebrate New Year's Eve with just their household.

Also, to take advantage of the technology we have. You can still have a good time and welcome 2021 through Facetime and Zoom.