The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is “assuming we will be seeing patients” suspected of having COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus first seen in China, UAMS Medical Center CEO Dr. Stephen Mette said today.

The med center has already admitted one patient who was transferred from an emergency care facility over concern he had COVID-19, but the patient “almost certainly does not have it,” because of his history and medical profile, Mette said.


“I think we’re pretty well prepared,” Mette said. “We went through extensive preparations for the SARS and Ebola threats” in 2003 and 2014. UAMS has 33 “state of the art” negative pressure rooms, including in its intensive care units, that do not allow air flow from the room. The med center can use other rooms, for those at less risk.

Hospitals across the state need to have their own plans to handle suspected cases. “If we are bursting at the seams, our ability to take care of the next patent will be diminished, so it’s important that all facilities now how to manage patients that don’t need the ICU,” Mette said. Transferring patients only increases the risk of exposure to caregivers, he noted. UAMS will also provide telemedicine services to hospitals.


The state Department of Health is handling all testing. It received kits from the Centers for Disease Control this week and expects to receive more, though the CDC’s ability to provide enough kits nationwide is a matter of concern. Mette said test results take about 24 hours.

Yesterday, the health department announced it was testing two people for suspected COVID-19 infection. The department is not releasing information about suspected cases and would not confirm whether the UAMS patient is one of the two.


Mette did not know how many cases of flu, which shares symptoms with COVID-19, the ER is seeing on average now. Two weeks ago, he said, it was about 20 patients a day. To weed out suspected cases of COVID-19, the hospital is relying on travel history or direct contact with a known case, the CDC’s guideline.

There are 60 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the CDC, occurring in 12 states. Six people have died. While the CDC map of reported infection does not include any states contiguous to Arkansas, Texas officials are reporting that a woman who was allowed to leave quarantine in San Antonio and who went shopping at a mall later tested “weakly” positive. There are 122 people evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship being held in quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base.