Jun 30, 2021 - News

Why the Delta variant has Northwest Arkansas doctors on edge

Illustration of a warning sign made of the letter delta and an exclamation point inside it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in NWA and surrounding areas, state epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha tells Axios.

  • "We suspect that it is spreading in every county in Arkansas and, if not, it soon will be," she says.

Why it matters: The variant is beginning to cause another surge in cases and hospitalizations, Dillaha and David Ratcliff, chief medical officer at Washington Regional Medical Center, told Axios.

  • Washington Regional is seeing a higher percentage of young people hospitalized, which Ratcliff attributed to a lower vaccination rate.
  • Some patients are being transferred from southern Missouri because hospitals are overwhelmed. The area has a similar vaccination rate to NWA.

Threat level: The Delta variant is 50% more infectious than the Alpha variant, previously the most dominant in Arkansas. And Alpha was already 50% more infectious than regular COVID, per Dillaha.

  • It takes three to four weeks to learn what variant someone has. The state has started working with a new lab to get results back in one week.
"It attacks younger individuals and it produces much more severe disease. This is not losing your sense of smell and a bad case of flu. This is immediately coming into the hospital and being put on a ventilator."
ā€” Cam Patterson, chancellor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, at Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Monday news conference

By the numbers: 97% of people hospitalized at Washington Regional since March were unvaccinated. The vaccinated patients had underlying health conditions.

  • Hospitals in NWA had a combined total of 35 COVID patients Monday, more than triple the number in early June, according to Martine Pollard, spokesperson at Mercy Health System, on behalf of all Benton and Washington county hospitals.
  • 99.6% of the 988 people in Arkansas who died of the virus since Jan. 26 were not vaccinated, Hutchinson said during a news conference yesterday.
  • Only about 41% of Arkansans 12 and older are vaccinated.

What's next: Dillaha says to get vaccinated ASAP if you haven't done so. Vaccinated people with underlying health conditions should wear masks in public and shouldn't gather with unvaccinated, unmasked people.


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