Searcy is currently experiencing a dramatic increase in active COVID-19 cases, which is consistent with the rest of the state and country, largely due to the new omicron variant. Local health care providers, such as Unity Health, are struggling to keep up with and manage the increasing COVID-19 numbers.
According to Dr. Roddy Lochala, D.O., Chief Medical Officer at Unity Health, over two in every 100 Arkansans has an active case. These are based on the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) numbers, and therefore, as Lochala pointed out, the prevalence of the coronavirus in reality is even higher than that.
As of Jan. 19, there are 95,377 active cases in Arkansas; 2,177 of those coming from White County, according to ADH. A major reason for these high numbers of cases is the outbreak of the omicron variant, which is significantly more transmissible than past variants.
The first reported case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Arkansas came on Dec. 17, 2021. Since then, Lochala said that they saw an exponential rise in testing and positivity soon after. Due to this spike in testing and active cases, it is not as easy now to get tested for COVID-19 as it has been in previous months.
“Due to the scarcity of tests, we require a prescriber’s order,” Lochala said. “Fortunately, there are other avenues available, such as retail pharmacies and the Arkansas Department of Health.”
Furthermore, the virality of the omicron variant is forcing many healthcare workers to quarantine, causing healthcare facilities to be short staffed at the exact time that there is the highest demand for their services. Lochala said he expects Unity Health to surpass their records for COVID-related hospitalizations in the near future.
However, Lochala also said he expects that the current COVID-19 spike will peak by the end of January.
“Hospitalizations will peak and be trending downward by the end of February,” Lochala said. “The result will be a community where very few people will be COVID naive because nearly everyone will have had a vaccine or COVID or both.”
Professor of nursing Karen Kelley shares Lochala’s opinion that the omicron spike will peak by the end of January, but is suspicious of how quickly the cases will drop back down due to the relatively low rates of vaccination in White County. Kelley noted how in areas on the East Coast, where omicron first hit, the cases increased quickly and then decreased quickly, as well. However, Kelley explained that these areas, such as Washington D.C., have substantially higher rates of public vaccination. Therefore, Kelley suspects that the cases in Searcy might not drop as dramatically as they have in other places.
ADH reported that, as of Jan. 19, 40.8% of White County is fully immunized. This is almost half the national average, as the CDC reported that 75.2% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Lochala said that 85% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients.
Despite these public health concerns, Lochala is optimistic of Unity Health and other healthcare providers’ ability to meet the challenge.
“We are confident in our ability to work as a team to care for ourselves and our community,” Lochala said. Our neighbors can rest assured that we will continue to utilize every available resource to improve the health and well-being of our community.”