Two more health care systems said this week they will require employees to receive the covid-19 vaccine as the number of covid-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to increase.
Meanwhile, Northwest Arkansas Council and other local organizations began hosting mass vaccination clinics again in response to the surge.
Washington Regional will require all medical and allied health staff members, students, clinical rotators and volunteers to be vaccinated by Oct. 1, according to a memo from President and CEO Larry Shackelford to staff. Effective immediately, all prospective new hires must provide proof of having received at least one dose of vaccine two weeks before beginning work, the memo states.
Accommodation requests for exemptions based on disability and religious beliefs will be considered on a case-by-case basis, the memo states.
Arkansas Children's Hospital, including the Northwest Arkansas campus in Springdale, decided all leaders must receive a first dose of the vaccine by Aug. 20 and be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 as a condition of employment, according to an email to staff. More than 90% of those in management positions at the hospital are vaccinated, the email states.
Beginning Aug. 16, all new employees at Arkansas Children's must receive a first dose by their start date and a second dose within 30 days of employment, the email states. The hospital will continue to comply with its policy of accommodating religious and medical exceptions.
Mercy Health Systems and Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas announced plans earlier this month to require all staff members to be vaccinated by Sept. 30.
The number of covid-19 hospitalizations in Northwest Arkansas and the state continued to climb this week, peaking at 93 on Wednesday before falling to 87 Friday, according to Martine Pollard, a spokeswoman for Mercy who released a joint statement from the largest health care providers in the region.
The average age for covid-19 patients in Benton and Washington county hospitals was 58, with the youngest among them 21. Almost all of the hospitalized patients were not vaccinated, Pollard said.
Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith had 22 covid-19 patients, including 10 in ICU, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Cook.
Baptist Health in Forth Smith had 35 patients with covid-19, including nine patients in ICU and four on ventilators, according to Kim Miller, western region president. Out of those, only three were fully vaccinated, she said.
Statewide, 871 patients were hospitalized with covid-19, 328 were in intensive care units and 159 were on ventilators, according to Danyelle McNeill, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Health.
The department reported 1,987 new cases in the state Friday, including 218 in Benton County and 162 in Washington County.
Ten more covid-related deaths occurred in Benton County this week, bringing the total for the year to 137, according to Coroner Daniel Oxford. Washington County had six new covid-related deaths, bringing the July total to 19 and the total for the year to 172, according to Janell Smith, deputy coroner.
Sebastian County has recorded 17 covid-related deaths in July, including five residents of Crawford County, five from Oklahoma, one from Missouri and one from Franklin County, according to Coroner Kenneth Hobbs. Many patients from surrounding areas come to Fort Smith hospitals for treatment, he said.
Northwest Arkansas Council hosted a vaccine clinic this week for the first time since June, according to spokesman Nate Green.
On Friday, 150 people attended the pop-up clinic at J.B. Hunt in Lowell, he said. The clinic offered Pfizer vaccines for anyone over age 12.
The council suspended clinics in June because of lack of participation and started back this week because of the rising number of cases, Green said.
The council is happy to work with businesses and other organizations to host pop-up clinics, he said. More information is available on the council's website at nwacouncil.org/nwavaccines/.
A total of 144 people participated in a Bentonville School District vaccination clinic for students and community members on Monday, according to spokeswoman Leslee Wright. It was the district's fourth clinic, she said. Fayetteville High School hosted a vaccination clinic for students ages 12 and older on Friday.
Rogers School District is encouraging vaccinations for students but has not hosted a clinic for students since the shots are widely available in the community, said Ashley Siwiec, director of communications.
Trent Jones, director of communications for Springdale School District, said the district has not hosted a clinic and isn't planning to host one.
Arkansas United announced Friday plans for a series of school supply giveaway and vaccination events across the state, including one from 8-11 a.m. Sunday at 614 E. Emma Ave. in Springdale; other such events are scheduled for Aug. 13 in Fort Smith and Aug. 15 in Springdale. Participants are asked to register by calling 479-763-2822.
Percent of the population over 12 fully vaccinated:
• Benton County: 41.5%
• Crawford County: 30.26%
• Sebastian County: 27.47%
• Washington County: 41.47%
• Arkansas: 40.72%
Source: Arkansas Department of Health.