On Friday, the City of Fort Smith held the first press conference in months to update residents on the numbers of COVID-19 in Sebastian County and suggestions for celebrating the upcoming holidays.


Fort Smith Mayor George McGill opened the conference by explaining that, while the governor gives state-level updates and the Coronavirus Task Force gives national updates, they wanted to provide a local update for citizens of the River Valley.


City Administrator Carl Geffken shared that the city has provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to all first responders. He also stated that the city regrettably had canceled the Holiday Express but would turn the Christmas lights on earlier than previous years so that residents can enjoy the lights safely.


Dr. Bryan Clardy of Baptist Health shared Sebastian County statistics where there are 828 active cases and have been over 100 deaths. However, Clardy also pointed out that they are now better able to care for patients with COVID-19 and that "the end is in sight."


Winter Task Force member and CEO of Mercy Hospital Fort Smith Ryan Gehrig praised Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his proactive response to COVID-19 and shared that there were four subcommittees that have met and reported to the governor this week. The subcommittees relate to bed capacity in hospitals, resources, public policy and reducing the spread.


According to Gehrig, there are about 45 COVID-19 patients at Mercy, and one of the big issues now has been staff fatigue.


Baptist Health Fort Smith CEO Kim Miller assured residents that everyone has emergency-plan procedures, and plans for flexing capacity. Miller shared that "staff are working hard to provide exceptional care."


Miller said there were 40 COVID-19 patients in the Fort Smith Baptist system, but the Van Buren facility is a "clean facility" where they can move non-COVID-19 patients if necessary.


Wansley Harrison of River Valley Primary Care Services highlighted the issue of seasonal depression in a time of a pandemic. He noted that people have gone from the usual holiday tie of too much to do, to socially distancing and not having anything to do.


McGill closed the press conference with the urge to "enjoy the holidays, but let’s be smart."


Several panel members urged residents to remember the three Ws of "wash our hands, watch your distance and wear your mask."