Since the beginning of June, Washington county (home to Fayetteville and Springdale) have seen a dramatic increase in covid-19 cases. Numbers have been rising so rapidly that Washington Regional Medical System, one of the area’s largest healthcare providers, issued a statement urging residents to “take the recent surge in COVID-19 cases seriously,” asking community members to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash hands regularly, avoid large groups of people, and stay home if sick.
Arkansas Strong reached out to Washington Regional hospitalist Dr. Jonna Dyer to get a better understanding of the virus’s spread in Washington County and what, if anything, Northwest Arkansas residents can do to put a stop to the spread of Covid-19.
Arkansas Strong: As a hospitalist, are you concerned about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in our state and particularly in NWA?
Dr. Dyer: Yes, I am very concerned. Over the past few weeks, we have seen a sharp increase in cases in our state, particularly in Washington and Benton counties. Though we are all eager to get back to life as it was before COVID, it is crucial that we as a community come together and remain diligent in our efforts to contain the spread of infection.
AS: Recently it was reported that at a plant in Springdale, 198 out of 199 people that tested positive did not have any symptoms at the time of testing. What insight does this give you into how the virus is spreading in our community?
Dr. Dyer: We have known for some time that the virus can be spread by individuals who are asymptomatic, though there has been debate in the scientific community about how readily that happens. To me, this data highlights how significant asymptomatic spread can be, particularly among close contacts. It is critically important that even individuals who do not have any symptoms help protect our community by wearing masks anytime they are in public, adhering to social distancing guidelines, and using excellent hand hygiene.
AS: Do we need to be doing more testing than we currently are?
Dr. Dyer: Community testing is now readily available, and we at Washington Regional have seen a significant increase in calls to our COVID hotline as well as tests being administered. I would strongly encourage anyone who experiences symptoms or has contact with an infected person to be tested. The Arkansas Department of Health has also been ramping up contact tracing efforts, which has the potential to increase the number tests being performed.
AS: What advice would you give to people who want to be out and about, enjoying the Arkansas summer, especially after being cooped up during quarantine over the spring months?
Dr. Dyer: We are fortunate in Arkansas to have an abundance of natural beauty to enjoy, and outside activities offer opportunities to enjoy the summer while adhering to social distancing guidelines. I would encourage each person to consider their personal risk factors and those of their family members, as well as the risk of the activity itself in making decisions about activities. The CDC has excellent information on their website to help people understand these risks.
AS: What kinds of activities can people enjoy right now safely and without putting themselves or others at risk of spreading COVID-19?
Dr. Dyer: There is some risk inherent to any activity that involves contact with other people, but some are riskier than others. I would encourage people to look for outdoor activities where they have reduced contact with others, or where they can remain appropriately distanced from others. I would recommend avoiding activities that involve large gatherings in close or enclosed spaces, especially if participants are not wearing masks. Anyone who has symptoms or has contact with an infected person within the last 14 days should remain quarantined at home.
AS: What would happen if your hospital reaches capacity but cases still keep going up in the community? What kinds of decisions would hospital staff have to make regarding patient care?
Dr. Dyer: The leadership and administration of Washington Regional did an excellent job at the beginning of the pandemic to plan and strategize for these types of scenarios, and our hospital remains committed to caring for all members of our community, whether they require our services for COVID infection or other medical conditions. Currently, we have two dedicated inpatient COVID units, while the rest of the hospital continues to care for patients with other conditions. If the COVID units reach capacity, there is an incremental plan for making additional beds available and increasing staff as necessary. Our administration has also been dedicated to making sure we have all of the supplies and equipment necessary to continue to provide safe and effective patient care.
AS: What can individuals do to mitigate the spread of the virus? As a doctor, what do you personally do to lessen the risk for yourself and your family when you’re out in public?
Dr. Dyer: The most important part of defeating this pandemic is prevention, and every community member has a role to play. Most importantly, if you are symptomatic or have a positive contact within the last 14 days, please remain quarantined at home and notify the Department of Health for contact tracing purposes. If you are not ill or quarantined, be thoughtful and wise about where you go and what activities you participate in. Keep in mind that you could be spreading the virus even if you have no symptoms. When you are out and about, wear a mask fully covering your nostrils and mouth at all times and remain at least 6 feet from other people. Wash your hands thoroughly and often! Remember that taking all of these precautions is not demonstrating fear, but showing care and concern for others and could quite literally save someone’s life. Personally, I do my best to limit outings to those which are necessary and I always wear a mask indoors. I use a lot of hand sanitizer when I’m out and wash my hands as soon as I am able.
AS: Should we be taking this more seriously as a state than we are? What changes in behavior or in policy, if any, would you personally like to see take place?
Dr. Dyer: I think a lot of people are growing weary of all the restrictions and disruptions to normal life and may be tempted to minimize their risk in order to resume their usual lifestyle. Personally, I would like to see community members continue to be vigilant in protecting one another by adhering to CDC and local guidelines. Be aware of the data in your own community and use that to guide your decisions as well. I personally support efforts to require masks in all businesses and public places. I have been encouraged to see local groups and individuals procuring and donating masks to community members who might not otherwise have access to them. I would also encourage those who are able to donate to charities who are helping the economically disadvantaged during this crisis. We all have a role to play in getting through this together! On a policy level, I hope to see robust contact tracing in our area, as this is one of the interventions that has been shown most effective in other parts of the country and the world. I’m pleased with the efforts of the Department of Health in developing that effort locally.
Thank you to Dr. Dyer and Washington Regional for sharing your perspective and expertise with Arkansas Strong. We greatly appreciate your service to the Washington County community.
View the Covid-19 PSA video and sharable graphic the Northwest Arkansas Council released below.
Photo Credit: Washington Regional Medical System. Video and graphic credit: Northwest Arkansas Council.