In March, many Americans started spending more time at home than anywhere else. While separated from friends, family and regular day-to-day activities, the thing at the top of everyone’s to-do list was social distancing. On April 16, the White House unrolled a three-phase strategy for opening the country. We talked with Dr. Kwame Yeboah, associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, about his view on a successful reopening, particularly in Arkansas.
So far Arkansas has been partly shielded from some of the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an outbreak spread by direct contact, being a state with inhabitants spread out between large farm lands and removed from major ports of entry into the country has been an advantage. This inherent geographical distancing backed by the social measures put in place have mitigated the spread of the infection so far.
However, as creatures of habit, the adjustments to life and constantly evolving nature of this situation have been stressful and hard. This has led to preparations to open up the state, and to normal activities of life that may possibly affect the mitigating practices. Furthermore, Arkansas’ population is skewed toward the elderly with underlying health conditions that predisposes to severe COVID-19 cases. So far, SARS-Cov-2 has shown to be a ferocious master pathogen that can be spread even by people without symptoms. In only a few months it has triggered lockdowns of the world and claimed thousands of lives. In Arkansas, the epicenters of infection are the crowded places like prisons, thus following the characteristic spread of the disease. This means uncontrolled opening up of the state can have dire consequences.
I feel any program for opening up needs a delicate balance between social response and a clinical response. It should be based on a triage not only of patients but seemingly healthy people. Arkansas state and local governments should offer robust support for telecommuting and remote learning. Statewide face mask wearing and social distancing should be enforced during the reopening. More importantly, there should be designated testing centers to intensify screening the public particularly in places of large gathering with rigorous contact tracing efforts to help interrupt the transmission. This should last long enough to aid in abating community transmission in the country.