“We’ve lost control. … The numbers don’t lie. … Our hospitals are very, very on the edge. … We don’t have a knock-out treatment here, so we’re left with defensive strategies. … We are not fighting the same virus that we were a year ago.”
Dr. Joe Thompson, President/CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, made these remarks and more as he gave some bleak truths in a COVID-19 update on the state at Wednesday's Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club Meeting.
“My message is not one I want to be delivering, but I think it’s important for folks to understand and hear,” Thompson disclaimed. “... We all tend to be a little bit fatalistic: Well I’ll just wait and see what happens. This is not a time we need to wait and see what happens, this is a time that we really do need to step in and take some action.
“... We’re in a worse situation than we’ve ever been in this COVID pandemic since we started a year and a half ago.”
A year and eight months ago our immune systems were introduced to a Coronavirus that they had never before seen. It was novel to us, making our bodies asymptomatic upon the first days of contracting the virus, and in-turn giving it a head start in its attack. It attached itself mostly in our lungs and respiratory tract, and if it got in our blood stream it could travel to our hearts, kidneys or brains. This was an issue that became a worldwide pandemic because no human had ever had an immune system that witnessed this virus.
Now, after what we thought was to be the most grim time of our lives, this pandemic is worse than ever before thanks to the mutating virus producing the Delta Variant that is about twice as contagious, produces more severe illness and attacks quicker. Arkansas, along with other southern states, is considered a “hot zone” as vaccination and mask hesitancy persists.
“Over the last two or three weeks, we have really lost control here," Thompson said at the meeting. "We’re on this upward spike as a nation that is actually on a steeper slope than we were originally last year. The slope of that line going up is much steeper than it was except for maybe back in November when we had the holidays and other issues going forward.”
Arkansas had over 3,000 cases reported in the latter part of last week. Unlike the start of the pandemic, more than half the cases now being seen are under age 45.
“I think we all hoped in May and June that we were at the end of the tunnel, and unfortunately we find ourselves back in the middle of it again, and the reason for that is this virus has mutated,” Thompson said. “We are not fighting the same virus that we were a year ago.”
We have lost control in this fight, and the spike we are seeing is significant cause for concern.
“No hospital CEO ever wants to say they’re in trouble, but our hospitals are very, very on the edge,” he said. “Both in terms of the people they have in the hospital, but our teams have been going at this for a year and a half now and they’re tired. … I know we want to all get through this, but the numbers don’t lie. We are going up, and we’re going up quickly right now in our healthcare system across the state.”
Without a “knockout” treatment, Thompson said we are left with defensive strategies of masking, socially distancing and practicing good hygiene. Our offensive strategy is the vaccine, which he acknowledged receives hesitancy due to the speed at which it was developed. However, he notes that Messenger RNA vaccines, which are what Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are, are not new, and the FDA has previously approved one made to fight the Ebola Virus.
“In December of 2019 the FDA approved a Messenger RNA vaccine against Ebola,” he said. “The pharmaceutical companies had been working, using Messenger RNA stuff since the Ebola outbreak in 2014, when we were worried that disease was going to spread from Africa and become a pandemic worldwide. They were using and developing the technology of the messenger RNA.”
So how does this new technology of Messenger RNA vaccines work? Thompson explained it in layman's terms.
“They took a picture — a DNA profile — of the virus, and in those vaccines they give your immune system a picture of what the spike looks like without necessarily exposing you to the virus itself," he said. "So if your immune system then has its FBI’s most-wanted list picture ... when the virus comes in contact with you, it’s able to resist the infection and fight it off.”
Prior to conclusion of the meeting, Thompson gave four scenarios, two of which have happened, one that is likely and one he hopes we don’t get to, but is possible:
• Just two months ago in June we were all feeling like we were getting to the end of the tunnel. We had a slow burn, we had unprotected people that were still getting sick, we still had about 200 people in the hospital and we were losing a handful everyday, but we were making progress and had hope with the vaccine.
• Sometime last month this Delta Variant hit us, and we are in that third surge going up.
• The danger about the current surge that we’re in, in addition to the health risk to each of us and those that are not protected, is with every transmission is a chance that we get a new variant that either spreads faster, or hurts people more, in the unprotected, not vaccinated population, or
• His worst case scenario is we get a variant that is out from under the protections of the current vaccine developed and we’re right back to square one, where we were in March of 2020.
“None of us want to be where we are,” Thompson said, “but it’s time to have action and leadership to do the right thing so that we actually get through this spike that we’re in, and we get to the other side of this as much as we can.”