Planning Ahead: States Need Greater Pandemic Preparedness
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Arkansas and other rural states, and experts say the consequences of being unprepared for an infectious-disease outbreak have never been more apparent.
According to data from CovidActNow.org, Arkansas hospitals are stretched thin and aren't equipped to handle another wave of new coronavirus infections.
With a potentially effective vaccine on the horizon, said Dr. Helen Boucher, chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center, state and local governments should begin thinking about new policies and procedures for future public-health threats.
"It's really important as we think about pandemic preparedness to focus on surveillance," she said. "And so, that's the science of looking at what viruses and bacteria are circulating in humans, animals and the environment, and making sure that we're aware, and on top of, any unusual spread."
She said she also believes federal and state officials should focus on monitoring potential virus threats and invest in adequate supplies of basic medicines and equipment. On Monday, COVID-19 deaths jumped to 53 in Arkansas, the state's highest one-day total since the pandemic began.
Boucher said the coming weeks will especially be critical to stop COVID-19 from spiraling out of control in the midst of flu season.
"As we look at the winter, as we look at these next 8- to 12 weeks before we have a vaccine and other tools to help us, it's important to double down on those measures," she said. "So that means wearing a mask, washing our hands frequently, maintaining that six feet of physical distance between others and avoiding crowds -- and then, very importantly, staying home from work or school when you're sick."
Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently announced a COVID-19 Winter Task Force -- made up of 19 physicians, state officials and health-care executives -- to help guide statewide strategies for slowing the spread of the virus during the colder months.