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Speights: Idaho cautionary COVID tale

JONESBORO — Idaho may be a sign of what could happen here if Northeast Arkansas residents continue to resist getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, said Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the Jonesboro campus of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine.

St. Bernards Medical Center and NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital of Jonesboro both reported being near their capacities with COVID admissions Thursday.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 2,481 new virus cases statewide Thursday, including 104 in Craighead County. The number of active cases rose by 206 to 19,714. The death toll rose by 27 to 7,169. Two of those deaths were in Mississippi County.

Statewide hospitalizations dropped by 15 to 1,194, including 315 on ventilators.

St. Bernards spokesman Mitchell Nail said his hospital had 91 in the hospital, slightly below Monday’s surge of patients. There were 24 in intensive care and 14 on ventilators.

“Unfortunately, we did have three patients pass away (Wednesday) night,” Nail said. Those deaths weren’t reflected in Thursday’s statistics.

NEA Baptist had 64 hospitalized COVID patients, said spokesman Ty Jones. So far, NEA Baptist has not had to curtail nonessential procedures.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare moved two regions, affecting 10 hospitals, into the crisis designation Monday evening, giving hospitals a legal and ethical template to use while rationing care.

The designation will remain in effect until there are enough resources – including staffing, hospital beds and equipment or a drop in the number of patients – to provide normal levels of treatment to all patients, The Associated Press reported.

“They will have to choose who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t,” Speights said. “Basically, they will decide who lives and who dies. This is the first time it has happened in the United States.”

To help assure that doesn’t happen, Speights said everyone who is eligible should be vaccinated, people should be wearing masks while in public spaces, they should practice good hand hygiene and limit large indoor groups and crowds.

Under the Idaho guidelines, patients are given priority scores based on a number of factors that impact their likelihood of surviving a health crisis.

Those deemed most in need of care and most likely to benefit from it are put on priority lists for scarce resources like ICU beds.

Others in dire need but with lower chances of surviving will be given “comfort care” to help keep them pain-free whether they succumb to their illnesses or recover.

Patients with serious but not life-threatening medical problems will face delays in receiving care until resources are available.

As in Arkansas, an Army medical team has been dispatched to Idaho to help ease the strain.

Speights said even those fully vaccinated should wear a mask because there is still a slight chance of contracting the highly-infectious delta variant of COVID-19.

“What are your chances of getting COVID if you’re fully vaccinated? A New York Times article quoted about 1 in 5,000 (0.02 percent) to 1 in 10,000 (0.01 percent),” Speights said. “The CDC published data somewhere between 0.01 percent to 0.54 percent depending on where you are located. Why does that matter where you’re located? It’s based on the vaccination rates in that area and your risk of running into someone with COVID. The 0.01 percent number is if you are living in Connecticut, the 0.54 percent is for those of us in Arkansas.”

But more importantly, Speights said the issue is severity of illness should a vaccinated person become infected, Speights.

“You really want to know what’s your chance of getting COVID and developing a severe infection that would result in hospitalization, ICU care, ventilator or death,” he said. “Having a runny nose or headache for a day or two is no fun, but requiring hospitalization or a machine to breathe is quite another story.”

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county on Thursday:

Craighead – 104 new cases; 1,066 active cases.

Greene – 55 new cases, 560 active.

Lawrence – 23 new cases 204 active.

Poinsett – 47 new cases; 256 active.

Mississippi – 72 new cases, 425 active.

Jackson – 12 new cases; 135 active.

Randolph – 25 new cases, 185 active.

Cross – 28 new cases, 121 active.

Clay – 22 new cases, 161 active.


Debra Maynard of Hardy took a moment to bond with Red Buttons, as NEA Humane Society puppy, waiting for adoption during an event held Thursday afternoon at Lowe’s.

Looking for a home


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Mayor: Community hurting from 3 fire deaths

JONESBORO — Three fire deaths in less than seven days not only takes a heavy toll on the families and neighborhoods affected, but the firefighters who entered the burning buildings and tried to save the victims, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver said, hours after a man died in his home on Parkwood Road.

Copenhaver said he was notified of the incident around 1:30 a.m., and said he takes such tragedies personally.

On Friday, a 62-year-old woman and 1-year-old girl perished in a fire in a home at 611 W. Huntington Ave. Two other children were rescued. Like the family, Copenhaver said the blaze greatly impacted the firefighters.

“That’s tough. That’s tough. You can’t prepare for that,” the mayor said. “You can practice that all day long. We see fires every day and we take it for granted.”

The crews who worked last week’s blaze returned to duty Thursday afternoon, and Copenhaver said the city has provided counseling. The mayor said he planned to meet privately with the firefighters, whom he said were deeply emotionally affected by the experience.

Veterans of the fire service often say they never forget when they lose a child, Copenhaver said.

The causes of both fires remain under investigation.

Jonesboro experienced no fire deaths in 2020.


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Teams leave to help with hurricane relief

JONESBORO — When disaster hits, Jonesboro residents don’t just keep their help local. They pitch in, gather supplies and travel to where they are needed the most.

Newly appointed Salvation Army Captain Teri Smith is preparing to leave this morning to help those in Gonzales, La., where thousands of displaced people not only lack electricity but also lack shelter.

“Myself along with nine others from the Arkansas and Oklahoma Salvation Army Division are leaving out today,” Smith said. “I am being sent as part of the Incident Management Team ... to help those in that area and the surrounding areas to help them recuperate from the event.”

According to NPR.org, there were still 530,000 customers who don’t have power because Hurricane Ida blew down 22,000 power poles.

Smith said the primary job of her team will be to feed those people in need of meals.

“We are going to feed those who are homeless, and those who don’t have energy, and some of those who are homeless,” she said.

“We have kitchens we will set up and the men will do the cooking,” she added. “We are finding the pockets of the affected area without power or that are in need of provisions.”

Smith said the Salvation Army is also going to be providing cleanup boxes to business who need help restoring their places of business.

“Many of these businesses are not open, so we are providing bottles of bleach, cleanup boxes and items to help them,” she said noting that she will be gone for two weeks.

Smith said the Salvation Army has had boots on the ground since the beginning of the disaster.

“The floodwaters have receded in most areas, but they are still without power,” she said.

Although The Sun received word there are other organizations and volunteers in the community on the way to assist, none were available to interview.

Smith said when she arrives, she and her nine-person crew will be staying in trailers similar to recreational vehicles with bathrooms.

“I have had to be on previous deployments where we have had to stay in high school gymnasiums, like when I went to assist with Hurricane Harvey in Texas,” she said.

This time, Smith said her role is more than just passing out meals.

“My job this time going is to fill that emotional and spiritual care these folks need,” she said. “This is a position that is unique to the Salvation Army.

“Many organizations don’t have this position as part of the recruiting aspect,” she added. “We are not just there for their physical needs although they are great. Some of these are post-traumatic stress disorder situations.”

Smith said she intends to provide a listening ear, a way to encourage people and uplift people, and also provide the resources in the area to help relieve the stress,” she said.

“When you are living paycheck to paycheck, the impact of this sort of disaster is just devastating,” she said.

Guy Pardew with Olympus Construction left late Thursday evening to help provide meals for those in need in other affected areas of Louisiana.

“Slidell, Louisiana, got me the items to cook and prepare meals,” Pardew said. “I have over 300 fillets of catfish that were supplied as well as 10 volunteers to help cook. We are to be cooking for about 300 people today.”

Pardew said when he gets back on Monday he will have a better idea of what folks need after he evaluates the situation.

“There is just so much devastation,” Pardew said.


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School bus, truck accident injures 3

JONESBORO — Jonesboro police, along with the Jonesboro Fire Department and emergency medical technicians, responded to the scene of an accident involving a school bus and a pickup at about 3 p.m. Wednesday as children were being released from the University Heights Campus on Aggie Road.

The bus was occupied by an unknown number of students and the driver. There was one occupant in the truck.

The driver and one student on the bus were injured during the wreck and transported by ambulance to a local hospital. The driver of the pickup was also transported.

The female student was treated and released from the hospital, Nettleton Superintendent Karen Curtner said Thursday.

She said the bus driver suffered a concussion and had X-rays taken of her shoulder. Both the bus driver and pickup truck driver were treated and released from the hospital.

Sally Smith, public information specialist with the Jonesboro Police Department, said the investigative officer of the accident said the bus driver was at fault. No traffic ticket had been issued as of Thursday, she said.


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