ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Last week, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders repealed five executive orders related to COVID-19, including a Post Peak COVID-19 Response Advisory Committee, an Arkansas Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Steering Committee, COVID-19 Testing Advisory Group, among others.
“I signed an Executive Order that terminates five existing Executive Orders on COVID-19 that are obsolete,” said Huckabee Sanders.
In her statement, she said the focus on COVID-19 has caused other health concerns like addiction, cancer, diabetes and mental health to become larger problems across the state.
“The first case of COVID-19 was identified more than three years ago, and it is time for Arkansas — and America — to get back to normal,” said Huckabee Sanders.
Dr. Marti Sharkey, the Fayetteville City Public Health Officer, is confident if anything health-related were to come up, they are still in a position to respond.
“We potentially could need those committees again. The good news is that all of us that have served on COVID-19 committees, we know who each other are and we’re in communication,” said Sharkey.
When we reached out to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ team to see if there would be any state COVID-19 plans down the road, the team said they weren’t going to engage in hypotheticals.
When it comes to precautions and planning for COVID-19, Dr. Robert Hopkins, the professor of internal medicine, pediatrics, and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, said we should still be keeping an eye out for the virus.
According to Hopkins, there continue to be hundreds of deaths across the U.S. from the virus. Although COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been declining since the beginning of February, a quickly spreading variant could soon change that.
“I don’t think it’s time, in my view, to back off on things,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins said information is power, especially when it comes to COVID-19, and communities need to be educated on public health.
“Our leadership, whether at the health department level, the state level, the county level, or the national level, I think that people need to take responsibility for those things and give people good information,” said Hopkins.
Like Hopkins, Sharkey believes planning is crucial, in case something bad happens in the future.
“Hopefully, we’ve learned the lesson from that, after this most recent pandemic, that we need to have plans in place, people to contact. For instance, when COVID started three years ago, we didn’t have those relationships, like I talked about with the committees in place,” said Sharkey.
In Northwest Arkansas, Dr. Sharkey said hospitalizations are up 20% this week. Test positivity and reported cases of COVID-19 are down slightly. According to Sharkey, we haven’t seen the new variant spread, like it has in other parts of the country.
She said the most concerning part of COVID-19 right now is its impact on the elderly population. If you have a family member that is over 65 and has not gotten the booster shot yet, she encourages you to talk with them about it.
Dr. Hopkins said Central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas are both considered in high-transmission, high-risk areas. The new variant appears to be more transmissible than the others, and he doesn’t expect the decline in COVID-19 cases to continue.
“I would not be surprised to see the numbers go up. I think it’s helped us that we’ve had a relatively mild winter. So, people have been able to spread out and spend a little more time outdoors, but I wouldn’t say that we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hopkins.
The good news from Dr. Hopkins is a lot of the population has some degree of immunity from the virus.
“That may be part of the reason we’re not seeing higher rates of hospitalization now than we have at other times. It doesn’t mean I would suggest anybody let their guard down. Because we’re still having people that need to be treated,” said Hopkins.