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Local virus cases drop 30%; deaths rise

JONESBORO — Craighead County had a 30 percent drop in new coronavirus infections over the past week and the number of active cases dropped by 20 percent, a Sun review of data from the Arkansas Department of Health revealed. However, the county recorded seven deaths compared to five the week before.

Neighboring counties had similar results, although Poinsett (15.3 percent) and Cross (5.8 percent) counties had smaller declines.

Craighead County averaged 67.7 new infections per day during the previous seven-day period. In August, the county was averaging more than 100 new cases per day.

On Monday, the beginning of The Sun’s reporting week, Craighead County had 61 new cases, the health department said. Greene County, which had an average of 38.6 new cases per day last week, recorded 16 new cases on Monday

Statewide, the health department reported 646 new cases Monday, but the number of active cases had declined by 1,767 to 17,821. Since the pandemic reached the state in March 2020, 7,298 people have died from complications from the disease, the health department said. None of Monday’s 31 deaths were attributed to Northeast Arkansas residents.

The number of hospitalizations as a result of the virus are also coming down, though more slowly.

Ty Jones, spokesman for NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital, said 65 COVID patients were admitted, 15 of whom were on ventilators.

“At our current census, 88 percent of COVID patients within the hospital are unvaccinated,” Jones said.

Mitchell Nail, spokesman for St. Bernards Medical Center, said that hospital had 79 patients in house, including 19 on ventilators. The hospital had 99 on Sept. 8.

While patient numbers have dropped, the number of severe cases in the intensive care unit have not, Nail said, “and the number of patients who are needing ventilators is actually going up.”

The age of patients also continues to drop.

“We’re seeing more patients under the age of 50, more patients even under the age of 40 who are passing away from the virus, and that’s a difficult thing,” Nail said.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county Sept. 6 through Sunday:

Craighead – 474 new cases (decrease of 206 from last week); 1,029 active cases (decrease of 197); 219 deaths (increase of 7).

Greene – 270 new cases (decrease of 96) 519 active (decrease of 125; 100 deaths (increase of 3).

Lawrence – 119 new cases (decrease of 38); 228 active (unchanged); 47 deaths (increase of 1).

Poinsett – 150 new cases (decrease of 27); 264 active (increase of 6); 94 deaths (increase of 2).

Mississippi – 239 new cases (decrease of 89); 456 active cases (increase of 11); 122 deaths (increase of 4).

Jackson – 64 new cases (decrease of 34); 131 active cases (decrease of 19); 41 deaths (unchanged).

Randolph – 95 new cases (decrease of 37), 122 active cases (decrease of 73); 50 deaths (unchanged).

Cross – 81 new cases (decrease of 5), 127 active cases (decrease of 3); 58 deaths (unchanged).

Clay – 83 new cases (decrease of 32); 173 active cases (decrease of 51); 53 deaths (increase of 1).

Work begins on Craighead courthouse

JONESBORO — Orange netting surrounds the Craighead County Courthouse now that improvements that were announced last Wednesday are underway.

Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said while the county attempted to get grants to pay for the improvements, the funds ended up coming out of general funds.

“We were scheduled to start the improvements this week and as Roberts-McNutt works around the building, we will have to work around different entry points based on that,” he said.

Day said the work will give the courthouse a fresh look.

“With the masonry structure, we will have to seal it. We also have to take the discolored parts of the building and try to restore it,” he said.

“All in all it will take about $100,000,” Day said, noting he wasn’t sure of the exact dollar amount.

Day said with masonry structures, this type of upkeep has to be done about every 10 years.

“The Craighead County Courthouse needs some TLC and cleaning up, especially on the limestone above the entrances. The tuckpointing, cleaning and sealing done by Roberts-McNutt will restore the courthouse to its original shine and again be a beautiful landmark for downtown Jonesboro,” said Craighead County Administration Assistant Lisa Lawrence.

Tuckpointing, cleaning and sealing of the courthouse building is beginning on the Main Street side.

“It will take approximately two to three weeks for each side of the courthouse to be worked on,” Day said.

These aren’t the only improvements. Day said the county is working on.

“We are still looking at other grant applications for things such as courtroom grants just trying to see what we will get,” he said.

Day said there are also some mass crack treatment projects that are about to begin on county roads. “We have about eight miles of paved road,” he said.

According to a statement from Eugene Neff, Craighead County Road Superintendent, no roads in the county have received mass crack treatment in 2021. Salt Creek Paving and Construction from Benton will begin treating seven roads today. The roads include County roads 318, 780, 760, 505, 507, 510 and 476.

“According to the schedule proposed by Salt Creek, they should be done with the Fog Seal and striping by October 15, 2021, depending on the weather,” Neff stated in the report.

4 airlines bid for Jonesboro service

JONESBORO — Four companies have submitted bids to provide passenger airline service to Jonesboro Municipal Airport, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Jonesboro Municipal Airport Commission was scheduled to meet at noon today to consider whether to endorse a particular bidder.

Air Choice One of St. Louis has provided the federally subsidized service since 2012. It provides 18 flights to St. Louis Lambert International Airport each week, where passengers can connect with major carriers. The current federal contract expires in early 2022.

Air Choice One has served Jonesboro since 2012. It’s authorized to fly nine-passenger turbo prop planes.

When the company took over the Essential Air Service contract in 2012 from a company that declared bankruptcy, there were an average of only 17 passengers per month. The average peaked at 990 in July 2019. The numbers plummeted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and the tornado that destroyed much of the airport’s infrastructure in the same year. Air Choice One had 56 rides in April 2020. March this year, the latest month available statistically, had 521 rides. Now, the carrier is averaging 14 passengers per day.

In its invitation for bids, the government urged companies to offer options for flying to up to two different destinations.

Southern Airways, which provides EAS service to three other Arkansas airports – Harrison, Hot Springs and El Dorado-Camden, offered options for 18 flights to St. Louis for $2,337 million in the first year; 18 flights to Nashville for $2.49 million; 18 flights to Dallas-Fort Worth for $3.42 million; or 12 flights to Nashville and six flights to St. Louis for $2.5 million.

Cape Air’s proposal would provide 18 flights per week to St. Louis for $2.57 million in subsidies in the first year.

San Francisco-based Boutique Air proposes 12 flights per week to St. Louis and six to Dallas for a first-year’s subsidy of $2.8 million.

Air Choice One’s proposal for 18 flights to St. Louis would require a $2.173 million subsidy in the first year of the new proposed contract. Option 2, which would provide 12 flights to St. Louis and six flights to Nashville, would require a $2.22 million subsidy. Twelve flights to St. Louis and six flights weekly to New Orleans would require $2.68 million in federal money in the first year. The fourth option is 12 flights to St. Louis and six flights to Dallas-Fort Worth, but the airline said it would need almost $2.59 million in taxpayer money.

Shane Storz, president of Air Choice One, has stressed to local officials it’s important to keep ridership above 10 per day to keep the federal cost-per-passenger below $200.

Comment on the proposal by email to: tvenkatesh.paluvai@dot.gov.

Bedford pleads guilty to lesser shooting charge

JONESBORO — Taurus Bedford, 23, of West Memphis, pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree battery in the shootings that occurred in January 2019 at a house in the 3500 block of Galaxy Street where one 16-year-old died and three were injured.

Bedford was originally charged with first-degree murder.

As part of the plea, Bedford was sentenced to 12 years in prison with credit for 909 days he spent in jail, according to court documents.

Bedford and Flando Montgomery, who was found guilty in June of first-degree murder, went to the residence to purchase marijuana, according to a probable cause affidavit. They later returned with the intention of robbing the residents, the affidavit said.

Malcolm Jemison, 16, of Jonesboro, on Jan. 2, 2019, died from multiple gunshot wounds at a local hospital.

“Bedford went into the house first. Montgomery then entered the residence where he shot the 16 (year-old) victim and then he and Bedford shot the other victims,” according to the probable cause affidavit.

Two other victims required surgery for life-threatening wounds, and one had non-life-threatening injuries, reports indicate.

Quenterius Finch, 25; Cedric Finch, 30; and Chauncey Thomas, 23, all of Jonesboro, were shot during the robbery, police said.

Prosecutors dropped several charges of aggravated robbery and aggravated assault against Bedford as part of the plea agreement.

Montgomery was sentenced to 55 years in prison after being convicted by a jury in June in Craighead County Circuit Court.

Prosecuting Attorney Keith Chrestman couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Pat Markle (right), an auditor at St. Bernards Medical Center, receives a barbecue sandwich from Trauma Hogs BBQ on Monday as St. Bernards honored its employees with a food fest, offering free food for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Bernards Administrator Michael Givens said the hospital takes great pride in providing employees with not only a work environment, but a home as well. Givens said Monday’s event provided staff with a brief respite from the rigors of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Together We Can celebrations have included all St. Bernards departments receiving cookies, cupcakes and free drink options.

Honoring employees