Dr. Jose Romero, the state's health secretary, said he was concerned about the possibility of a “surge on top of this surge" when school begins this fall. Laws enacted this year prevent schools from mandating face masks or from requiring students and teachers to be vaccinated.
“I expect to see this year significant outbreaks within the school system," Romero said during a virtual discussion on vaccine hesitancy held by U.S. News & World Report. “What’s already telling me that’s going to happen are the number of day care closures that have occurred because of outbreaks occurring, and camp exposures and closures occurring."
Romero said the key to combatting those outbreaks will be parents stressing the importance of wearing masks.
Dr. Bechara Choucair, the White House's vaccinations coordinator, visited Arkansas on Tuesday to meet with Romero, hospital leaders and other health officials. Choucair said the medical community will play the key role in countering misinformation that has fueled vaccine hesitancy in places like Arkansas.
“To be able to counter all of this misinformation with facts, with answers to people's most commonly asked questions, the opportunity for people to talk to their doctors to make sure they have the credible, scientific information is going to be really critical to help us deal with this level of misinformation that we're seeing," he said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this month began holding town halls around the state aimed at addressing people who have so far resisted getting vaccinated, and he planned more of the forums next week.
The state's virus hospitalizations on Tuesday increased by 28 to 815, with 313 in intensive care and 131 on ventilators. UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said the increases are straining hospital resources.
“Our staffing is really stretched thin at this point," Patterson said. “It's not a matter of finding beds, it's a matter of finding people to take care of patients, whether they're COVID-19 positive or not."