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Arkansas leaders met with healthcare officials to discuss COVID-19 pandemic


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Lawmakers met with healthcare officials at the Capitol on Monday, to discuss masks, hospital numbers and treatment options.

The meeting scheduled was to discuss vaccination rates in children and hospital data but masks quickly became part of the conversation as lawmakers peppered officials on masking issues.

State epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha testified that masking would help against the spread of Covid and cited studies out of the UK that said they would work in closer confines of classrooms.

Rep. Mary Bentley said she was concerned about masking kids would inhibit their oxygen levels. Dr. Dillaha responded she had not seen any data to support that and said cloth masks do not allow for any elevated levels of CO2.

Dr. Dillaha said masks were not the only thing that should be considered when taking precautions. She said good hygiene habits, social distancing, and households with everyone eligible to get vaccinated will go a long way to suppress the virus.

She said when asked if masks work, “They do.”

“Then there are studies, both on a small scale like businesses or schools, and larger studies looking at hospital systems or cities or counties, that show when they are implemented that they decrease the transmission of COVID-19,” Dr. Dillaha added.

Hospital officials from Baptist Health, Arkansas Children’s, and the Arkansas Hospital Association were on hand to offer a snapshot of the current situation.

Officials presented the typical daily data to lawmakers but also went more in-depth with numbers. Bo Ryall with AHA said as of today there are only 37 ICU rooms available across the state.

ACH President and CEO Marcy Doderer said between their two campuses they have 21 patients hospitalized due to Covid. She mentioned there are only 2 in NWA and 19 in Little Rock. Doderer said that of the 21 none of them were vaccinated and 16 of the 21 were eligible for the vaccine.

When asked about morale of nurses Doderer said many nurses and staff are tired and exhausted from the long shifts and the mental aspect of having to provide that critical care. She added many nurses at ACH are younger females with children. She said the stress of the pandemic takes its toll on them when dealing with their own children as much as it does in the hospital setting.

Greg Crain with Baptist Health Little Rock painted a grim picture.

“Monday of this week and the Baptist health system still sitting there 54 patients to spend the night waiting on the hospital bed one and five approximately 105 patients in the basil system of Covid patients again I’m very concerned I believe you should be very concerned my staff is worried and staffing is the issue,” he said.

Senator Clark Tucker asked the panel what the legislature could do as a body to help.

Ryall mentioned the traveling nurses in Arkansas are getting higher pay elsewhere and the multi-state compact could be limited because other states are seeing surges too so they may not be able to get as much help as they need.

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