This message from UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson gives some indication of the pressures facing major medical institutions as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 rampages through Arkansas.

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Just a cold? Maybe not. Hundreds in quarantine. Staff shortages complicate rising caseloads. Virtual meetings. Limits on visitation. Closure of fitness center and gift shops. No at-table dining at restaurants.

A New Year always brings with it high hopes for good news and new beginnings. Unfortunately, at the start of 2022, we find ourselves battling rising cases of COVID-19, increased hospitalizations due to coronavirus complications and staff shortages from coronavirus infections and quarantine for exposure. However, our high hopes for a brighter future aren’t dashed thanks to your resiliency and the dedicated teamwork you continue to model day after day even in the face of adversity. We will get through this together.
 
While the severity of cases we are seeing with the Omicron variant appears to be much less than that of the Delta Variant, Omicron is much more easily transmissible. Today, we have hundreds of employees and students across UAMS who are quarantined and we anticipate that number will continue to grow exponentially if we don’t take preventative measures. Your health and your safety are too important for us to gamble with “what ifs.” Many of the exposures we are seeing are happening when staff and students are congregating together for meals or break times while not wearing masks.  For those reasons we are taking the following temporary steps for the next few weeks that we believe will help reduce cases among our team.
 
1.      We are asking that all meetings be conducted remotely rather than in person. Likewise, we will not be allowing in-person events during the month of January. Organizers of events previously scheduled for January will receive an email with information on rescheduling. 
 
2.      Dr. Stephanie Gardner, UAMS provost and chief strategy officer, notified students last weekend that all classroom instruction will be conducted remotely, at least until Jan. 18. Experiential and clinical learning will continue to be in-person.
 
3.      Supervisors are encouraged to allow staff members whose jobs can be accomplished remotely, to work from home when possible.
 
4.      We are temporarily closing the UAMS Fitness Center as well as the hospital and Cancer Institute Gift Shops. Fitness Center members will not be charged membership fees for the month of January. We are also removing tables and chairs from UAMS eateries to encourage everyone to take their food back to their desks to eat.
 
5.      Hospital visitor policies are changing effective Wednesday, Jan. 5. Visiting hours will be reduced from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will also be some changes to the number of visitors patients may have. Click here for the latest visitor policies.
 
6.      Thanks to the deployment of 12 National Guard members to UAMS, we are expanding drive-thru COVID-19 testing hours on our Little Rock campus to 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week.  We are extremely fortunate to have the assistance of the Guard. Governor Hutchinson joined me today at our drive-thru triage testing center to express our great thanks for their service.

We will be re-evaluating the measures mentioned above in coming weeks and my hope is that we will be able to lift them very soon. In the meantime, please continue to practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and wear your masks. Your health and safety are important to the health and safety of our entire state.

Thank you for your hard work and your support.

Sincerely,

 
Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA
UAMS Chancellor