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LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday announced that nearly 2,100 more positive COVID-19 cases were diagnosed over the previous 24 hours, but he also shared some statistics about hospital space.

Aside from the 2,061 combined confirmed and probable cases reported, 36 more patients were hospitalized for a total of 935. Twenty-four more deaths were reported to bring the overall toll to 2,321.

Hutchinson said there is some bed space still available in hospitals, but he shared a chilling fact that the highest percentage of available ICU beds being used by COVID-19 patients is in north central Arkansas, which he said would be Harrison and Mountain Home. Nearly 70% of ICU beds in the area were used for those patients.

Hutchinson called on Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and a member of the recently-formed Winter COVID-19 Task Force, to talk about healthcare workers in general.

Patterson said nearly 400 employees at UAMS were under quarantine as of Friday. That means that under current regulations, those employees are not available to provide care at a patient’s bedside.

Anyone who tests positive for the virus must remain in quarantine for 10 days after diagnosis. Those who are exposed to the virus must quarantine for 14 days, Patterson said.

However, working with the Department of Health, the task force developed new guidelines for essential health care workers who are exposed to the virus.

Such workers may be given a PCR test five to seven days after exposure. If results are negative, they can return to the workforce with enhanced precautions.

The task force also developed emergency criteria for hospitals that are in desperate need of healthcare workers.

“Those conditions don’t currently exist,” Patterson said. “We hope they never exist.”

Under those guidelines, a healthcare worker who tests positive yet is asymptomatic can return to work as long as they are only caring for COVID-19 patients and are segregated from other employees who are not positive for the virus.

Patterson also said officials are looking into the possibility of implementing the Trauma Comm system at need.

He said Trauma Comm is housed in the Health Department. It assesses resources available for people who have been subjected to trauma and provides communication necessary to transfer patients between hospital and facilities at need.

The same could be applied for COVID-19 patients as they need more specialized treatment unavailable in their own communities.

Patterson finished by saying that even though the approaching holiday is a time when people want to be around all their family members, “this is a Thanksgiving for a nuclear family turkey dinner.”

Health Secretary Dr. José Romero reminded Arkansans that even though there is still some hospital space still available, the state has seen surges in cases that require hospitalizations.

Hutchinson said more than 1,100 nursing students in Arkansas are scheduled to graduate and be ready for the workforce in the next few weeks.

He said the state Nursing Board will expedite the licensure process to create a 24-hour turnaround when they will receive their licenses.

Hutchinson said he is asking that board to waive the application fee, which is $100 to $125, although there will still be a $30 background check that can’t be waived.

“We need to get those nurses on board quickly,” he said. “We need them to help relieve some of the challenges that we face.”

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