ARKANSAS, USA — Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson says there are no detected cases of the Omicron variant in the Natural State. However, that doesn’t mean state health leaders aren't keeping a close eye on the variant.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero says health officials are actively screening positive COVID-19 cases for the Omicron variant, checking for its existence in Arkansas.
“We take random samples that are positive and send to the CDC or a laboratory that has partnered with us,” Dr. Romero said.
The state is also taking positive samples to be sequenced for the Omicron variant.
As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise in Arkansas, state health leaders are warning that we could be headed into a third surge.
Experts at UAMS will be keeping a close eye on the holiday season and they project any rise in COVID-19 cases will be seen by February or March.
Gov. Hutchinson agrees there could be a third wave of COVID-19, but is optimistic with increases in vaccination rates and booster dose availability.
“I'm encouraged by the fact that with the vaccination rate, I have some level of confidence,” Hutchinson said. “We're going to keep the hospitalizations down and we're going to be much lower, in terms of where we are going to be during this winter month. But we will see, it's based upon everyone’s behavior."
The governor pushed for Arkansans to get vaccinated and take their booster doses, mentioning that vaccines wear off over time, causing an increase in breakthrough cases in those 65 and up.
The governor says unvaccinated individuals account for over 85% of all COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the state.
"It's clear that those individuals that are not vaccinated are making up the bulk of the hospitalizations,” Dr. Romero said. “There are individuals that are older, and their immunity is waning, but they are far less than those who have not been vaccinated."
While Hutchinson and Dr. Romero are worried about the elderly population, they are also worried about vaccination rates of those ages five to 11, saying Arkansas is 5.6% below the national average of vaccinated kids in that age group.