State legislators and others said at a Monday afternoon news conference that they are being proactive about responding to the global coronavirus outbreak, especially when it comes to the population's most vulnerable to dying from it: the elderly.
“We are surrounded by states that have had cases of this virus. So it's only a matter of time … What's important is that we know what to do,” state Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, said. He chairs the House Committee on Public Health.
Ladyman also said Arkansas is lower-risk because it lacks an international airport, and he said people should not overreact because any shortage of goods would only exacerbate the situation.
One thing the state has done so far is to issue a directive for all long-term care facilities to screen visitors and staff.
The Arkansas Department of Health's goal in doing this is to limit patients’ exposure to the deadly virus. The average age of COVID-19 fatalities is 80, Ladyman said.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, ADH’s medical director for immunizations and outbreak response, said the directive means visitors and staff will be questioned about their travel in the past 14 days and their potential exposure to ill persons. They will also be screened for signs of illness, such as fever.
Individuals with a fever will not be allowed to visit patients.
ADH is posting on its website updates on how many confirmed cases of the virus exist in the state (currently zero), how many persons are being investigated for the virus (also zero), and how many recent travelers are being monitored with daily check-in's and guidance (currently 100.)
Rachel Bunch, executive director of the Arkansas Health Care Association, the state’s largest organization of long-term care providers, said their priority is to prevent patients’ exposure to the virus and then to prevent it from spreading if patients are exposed.
Dillaha also said in her comments that the ADH has the capacity to conduct 20 tests for COVID-19 per day, but the department is changing its protocols to increase that capacity, though she didn’t know “off the top of her head” how much the capacity will increase.
Legislators are “working behind the scenes” with the executive branch, agencies and others who represent industries, said Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Public Health. She encouraged individuals to contact their legislators if they have any questions about the state’s response or if they need to be directed to a resource.
Jodiane Tritt, executive vice president of the Arkansas Hospital Association, said the association’s members want people to know that they should not come to a hospital unless they are experiencing a medical emergency. They should not come there for routine COVID-19 testing, she said.
With the state experiencing a massive flu outbreak as well, the AHA will update the public on both outbreaks as needed, Tritt said.
She added, “Arkansas has a very long history of rising to meet the challenges caused by epidemic disease. In these difficult times, we must all come together to cooperate as a state, safeguard the public's health and protect our most vulnerable citizens.”