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Arkansas hospitals expect COVID admissions to double by August due to the unvaccinated

The White House warned Friday about a surge of COVID cases in some states and the connection with low vaccination rates and misinformation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 33,000 new cases Thursday — up from a 26,000 average a week ago. Total cases rose about 70% over the same week. Lisa Desjardins discusses the trend with Arkansas epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Biden administration sounded the alarm today about a surge of COVID cases in some states and the direct connection with low vaccination rates.

    The Centers for Disease Control reported about 33,000 new COVID cases in the U.S. yesterday. That is a rise in new cases of about 70 percent, compared with a week ago. Hospital admissions are up too, by 36 percent, and the average death toll of the past week has climbed to 211 people a day.

    During a briefing today, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and other top officials outlined the danger.

    Dr. Rochelle Walensky , CDC Director: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the reasons for stubbornly low vaccination rates is misinformation, erroneous or outright false information that may dissuade some people from getting a shot.

    The White House has been particularly focused on this and the role of social media in allowing false information to spread. On his way to Camp David today, President Biden laid unmistakable blame on Facebook.

  • Question:

    What's your message to platforms like Facebook?

  • President Joe Biden:

    They're killing people.

    I mean, it really — look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And that's — and they're killing people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Facebook said the president was wrong.

    In a statement, the company said — quote — "More than two billion people have viewed authoritative information from Facebook about COVID and vaccines, more than any other place on the Internet."

    All of this comes as concerns over COVID are spiking regionally. This afternoon, Nevada officials recommended the use of masks in Las Vegas in crowded indoor spaces. The rise in cases and hospitalizations around the U.S. is particularly bad in parts of the South and the Midwest.

    That's where Lisa Desjardins picks up the story tonight.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, to get a sense of this, take a look at the map of hot spots where COVID cases are rising.

    Two months ago, there were no red spots on this national map. But, today, there are a significant number of states that are red, representing new cases and positive tests. In fact, seven of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of new cases per capita are in Missouri and Arkansas. And Arkansas' new cases have risen by 121 percent over the last two weeks.

    We look at the situation in that area, and the concerns about the unvaccinated, with an epidemiologist for the state of Arkansas, Dr. Jennifer Dillaha.

    Dr. Dillaha, take us into what the situation is right now with the coronavirus in your state.

    Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Arkansas Department of Health: Well, we are a state right now that has low vaccination rates.

    And, at the same time, we're having a great deal of spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, but it's the new Delta variant, which is highly contagious. So it's leading to a surge in cases and a great increase in the number of hospitalizations in our state.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to talk more about the vaccination rate.

    You do have one of the lowest vaccination rates, about 35 percent of your population. What do you know about why that is?

  • Dr. Jennifer Dillaha:

    It is multifactorial.

    Part of it is that people don't understand the urgency of being vaccinated. We are a rural state. So there were many rural communities that weren't particularly affected this last winter. So they underestimate the potential for the disease to spread in their communities. And they're underestimating the infectiousness of the new Delta variant.

    And then, on top of that, there is a great deal of misinformation out there. And people struggle with telling the difference between the misinformation and the accurate information. So they're unable to make an informed decision to get vaccinated because they struggle with understanding what the need is and what the risks are.

    And then, on top of that, we have low health care providers in our state. We have underserved areas. So we have worked really hard to get vaccines out into the rural communities through our pharmacies, because, oftentimes, it's the pharmacies that's the only health care provider in the town.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On that idea of misinformation, we're seeing reports that sometimes there is even hostility now, people, including your governor, to presenting the facts about the dangers of the coronavirus.

    How do you combat that? At this point, you have put out the message. What can you do?

  • Dr. Jennifer Dillaha:

    Well, I think one thing is to have empathy and compassion, and then to help people address their concerns about whatever they have.

    They need to be heard and then supported to move to a new position where they can accept new information.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You mentioned the Delta variant here. How dangerous do you believe that is?

  • Dr. Jennifer Dillaha:

    I think that the Delta variant is very dangerous.

    It is highly contagious. It is very quick to put people in the hospital, and at younger ages. So I think it's going to be hard for people to make decisions if they're basing those decisions on their experience of this past year. This is new. And people are underestimating it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    How are your hospitals doing right now with this surge?

  • Dr. Jennifer Dillaha:

    So, our hospitals are full, and not so much with COVID cases right now, but with cases that have resulted from delayed care or other health conditions that need immediate attention.

    And on top of that, the staff are tired. They have worked so hard over the last several months. And they're not getting a break. And they really need a break.

    We looked at our hospital numbers in the last several days. They're increasing every day for the past two weeks or more. And at the current rate of the increase, we will double our hospitalizations by the beginning of August.

    And, at that point, we will be at the peak in terms of the number of our COVID hospitalizations where we were in the wintertime. It's very concerning.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Around that same time, just a month from now is when freshman orientation begins at the University of Arkansas.

    Students will be back. A few weeks after, there is a home football game scheduled, tens of thousands of people.

    What is your concern level about that? Is there a conversation about whether those things should go forward?

  • Dr. Jennifer Dillaha:

    So, we do have a concern about those things. And it is really important for people to follow public health recommendations, which are, if they are not vaccinated, to wear masks and practice social distancing.

    I think in the current situation, with schools starting, that's going to be very difficult for people to adhere to. And, for that reason, we're strongly urging people to get vaccinated, get fully vaccinated, as soon as possible.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A strong and important message.

    Dr. Jennifer Dillaha of the state of Arkansas, thank you for joining us.

  • Dr. Jennifer Dillaha:

    Thank you.

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