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.