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Region has high virus infection rate

JONESBORO — Health officials worldwide and locally have been keeping an eye on a statistic that’s hard for the common person to understand.

But based on the statistics for Northeast Arkansas, local residents apparently need to understand it.

It’s called the 14-day moving average of percent positivity, and Craighead and adjacent counties have some of the highest percentages in Arkansas. In fact, Lawrence County was at the top of the list, according to numbers released Friday, at 21.8%.

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend communities fully reopen schools, businesses and other activities until the percent positivity rate is 5 percent or less for at least 14 days.

Dr. Shane Speights, dean of NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, said the goal of the White House Coronavirus Task force is 10%.

Even with the more liberal goal of 10 percent, it would appear Northeast Arkansas still has a lot of work to do to reach that goal.

But Speights said interpreting the numbers can be confusing.

The rate of positivity is an important indicator because it can provide insights into whether a community is conducting enough testing to find cases, according to The Johns Hopkins University. If a community’s positivity is high, it suggests that that community may largely be testing the sickest patients and possibly missing milder or asymptomatic cases. A lower positivity may indicate that a community is including in its testing patients with milder or no symptoms, the university said in a report on testing.

As for the numbers associated with Northeast Arkansas, Speights said it’s likely a combination of factors.

“Laxity in adherence to social distancing, mask wearing, handwashing, etc., and not enough community-wide testing or tests just being conducted on sick people,” Speights said.

The Arkansas Department of Health has ramped up testing statewide, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson alluded to that while providing his daily report Friday.

“Yesterday we saw another new record in our testing efforts,” the governor said in the press release. “With over 15,000 total tests, we can see the results of our investment and commitment to grow Arkansas’ testing infrastructure. This weekend is critical as we continue to battle COVID-19. Remember to wear a mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands frequently.”

Speights told The Sun in an email many people don’t understand the reasoning for increased testing, “and we hear it a lot – ‘Increased testing means you’re going to find more positives, that’s why the numbers are up.’ While an increase in the amount of testing DOES mean that we will find more cases, it DOES NOT mean that the virus was just being passed around the community without consequence. It’s like saying that mass pregnancy testing results in more pregnancies. To that point, increased testing of COVID does not increase hospitalizations from COVID (which we are seeing record highs in). Hospitalizations for COVID are high because cases of COVID are high, but we don’t want to use hospitalization rate as our marker because that would mean we are waiting for people to get sick and hospitalized before we recognize there is a problem.”

Speights said there are three strategies involved in testing:

“We test sick people we think have COVID (diagnostic test); we test people who have been exposed to people that have COVID (screening test); and we test populations for people that might have COVID and don’t know it (surveillance testing).”

The combination of those strategies is why testing health officials urge as many people as possible to be tested, Speights said.

Craighead County has ranked high statewide in new virus cases in recent days.

While not naming the companies, a health department report showed two Jonesboro manufacturing companies had five or more active COVID-19 cases as of Thursday.

One had eight active cases. Three other patients had recovered. The second had five active cases, but 53 other people at the same plant had been infected earlier and recovered.

Early voting begins Monday

JONESBORO — The early voting period begins Monday and officials say they’re prepared for Craighead County residents to cast their ballots.

Election Coordinator Jennifer Clack said poll workers will wear face coverings, “either masks, shields or both.” Surfaces that are frequently touched like check-in tablets and voting machines will be sanitized regularly, she said.

“We usually have a nice crowd in the morning, but I have a feeling we’ll be pretty busy (Monday). Of course, our line is going to be spaced out so it may look longer than it really is,” Clack said. “If the weather is rainy, we’ll have tents in the back to cover everybody up.”

Although face coverings aren’t required to vote in person, County Clerk Lesli Penny said they are encouraged.

“Come early, be prepared to show I.D. and we’ll get you in to vote,” Penny said.

Once a voter’s information is verified, each voter will receive a card with a barcode and a stylus that they can keep, Clack said. The card is used to upload voter’s unique ballot onto the screen, she said.

“If there’s a race they don’t know about, … they can skip a race if they wish and at the end, it will print their card off for them,” Clack said.

The voter will receive a new coded card once the voter makes their choices, she said. After verifying the information, the voter will be instructed to place it in another machine as they exit the building.

Early voting will be conducted from Monday through Nov. 2 at the Craighead County Election Annex, 315 W. Jefferson Ave., Jonesboro, and the Craighead County Eastern District Courthouse/Annex, 113 Cobean Blvd., Lake City.

Hours are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. On Nov. 2, the sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At the Jonesboro location, 20 voting machines, including two for disabled voters, will be available and 10 voters can be spaced out in the lobby at one time, Clack said.

Absentee voters who wish to return their ballots in person can do so at the clerk’s office, early voting locations and a drive-thru at 209 W. Washington Ave., Jonesboro.

Of the 2,661 absentee ballots mailed out, 1,283 Craighead County residents have returned them, Penny said. Arkansans can apply for an absentee ballot through Oct. 27.

Voters can preview a sample ballot courtesy of Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston.

To confirm voter registration status, get a list of polling places or view a sample ballot, visit voterview.ar-nova.org. Sample ballots may be found at the bottom of the voter’s registration page.

Commission addresses growth, development in Bono

BONO — Growth and development were the subjects of the meeting of Bono’s new planning and zoning commission, Mayor Danny Shaw said.

Though the city had a similar group in the past, Shaw said all the members moved away. The new commission met for a second time Thursday.

Chris Treadway, Allan Keith, Jarrod Pulver, Tyler Herring and Kelli Watson are part of the five-member volunteer committee, Shaw said.

“I think we have a really good task ahead of us,” Herring said. “I think Mayor Shaw is doing a great job taking Bono in the right direction.

Having enough rooftops to entice businesses to set up shop in town is an objective, Shaw said.

“We will be looking at Bono and planning for our city for the next 50 to 100 years,” he said. “I would like to see us get a grocery store.”

There are some property developments in the process of negotiations and Shaw said he wanted to make sure they are channeled in the right direction.

“I want to make sure we don’t create an apartment city in the future because that becomes a police problem,” Shaw said.

Keith said his main concern is making Bono a better place to live.

“I don’t necessarily have a vision for what the committee is going to do,” he said. “We will see where it takes us.”

Road crews were in action Friday morning, patching asphalt next to the new sidewalks that line College Street. Paving of the road will begin Wednesday, all as part of Phase Two of the ongoing project, Shaw said.

The city also recently conducted a smoke test on the sewage system infrastructure and is making the necessary repairs. Shaw said these improvements were badly needed.

“We hope this will help with the regulation of stormwater and runoff water,” Shaw said. “It looks like a town now. ... It’s really great.”

Council to consider private club, virus funding

JONESBORO — Another new private club alcohol request and paperwork involving millions of dollars in federal grants as well as a proposed change to stormwater management regulations will be on the Jonesboro City Council agenda Tuesday.

The new private club request is for a long-established Italian restaurant, Lazarri, at 2230 S. Caraway Road. The club is Sunrise Hospitality, which lists 168 members. Paul Bass is president, Michael Davies is vice president and Lesa Bass is secretary-treasurer.

The council will hear the first of three required readings of an ordinance to approve the proposed permit.

State law requires city council approval before a formal application can be filed with the state Alcohol Beverage Control Division.

The council will also hear the second reading of another private club request for Everyday Association, doing business as Native Restaurant, at 515 S. Gee St.

If approved it would be the first microbrewery in Jonesboro.

The federal funding matters council members will deal with involve economic development and the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The state made Jonesboro eligible for up to $2,664,809 from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, managed by the state Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). Each city and each county was provided funding based on population and other factors.

City Finance Director Steve Purtee told the council’s finance and administration committee last week the city can be reimbursed for salaries and benefits for public safety workers, for equipment and even upgrades to technology that is used to allow meeting and working remotely.

The economic development issue is formal acceptance of a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for a rail expansion at the Craighead Technology Park. The grant was announced Oct. 5.

The council will hear the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would change some of the city’s stormwater management regulations.

Under the proposal, no one would be allowed to:

Alter or modify any open channel, drainage swale, detention facility, storm sewer, or other watercourse either natural or artificial where any of said facility is part of the city stormwater management system, without first submitting construction plans and supporting documentation to the city engineer for review and being issued a compliance letter.

Penetrate utility lines through the storm sewer system.

Have less than a minimum of 18 inches vertical clearance for utilities crossing any existing or proposed storm sewer.

Establish a minimum of five feet of horizontal separation for utilities to be located parallel to the storm sewer system.

Plat new joint use utility/drainage easements

Another proposed ordinance to be read for the first time would waive competitive bidding and purchase $107,750 in software for the city planning department from IworkQ.

Also scheduled for a first reading is a proposal by Pilgrim Lutheran Church to rezone 2.05 acres at 604 E. Highland Drive from R-1 single family residential to C-4 neighborhood commercial.

The land, with a vacant house, is adjacent to the church’s campus and school.

An ordinance scheduled for its second reading would provide for city attorney retirement benefits. Under state law, the city attorney is entitled to retire at one-half of that person’s final annual salary after 10 years after reaching the age of 60, or after 20 years regardless of age. Under the proposed ordinance, current City Attorney Carol Duncan, who took office in 2015, could receive one year’s credit for every two years she served as assistant city attorney. She held that position for roughly 10 years.

The council will hear the final reading and vote on the following proposed ordinances proposed by:

South Caraway Baptist Church, 3707 S. Caraway Road, to rezone its 16.77-acre campus from R-1 single family residential to C-3 general commercial district for purposes of establishing a private childcare business.

Ashley Tallant to rezone 0.28 acres at 911 E. Parker Road, near Harrisburg Road, from CR-1 commercial residential mixed use district to C-3 with a limited use. Tallant proposes a hair salon for the property.

Resolutions to place municipal liens on 13 separate properties to recover code enforcement expenses also appear on the agenda.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in Municipal Center, 300 S. Church St.

The council’s public safety committee will meet at 5 p.m.,

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance inside the meeting room will be limited. Most council members will be attending via teleconference.

Child sex crime operation nets 4 arrests

JONESBORO — Four Northeast Arkansas men face child sex crime charges after they were arrested within two days.

The Homeland Security Investigations Child Exploitation Investigations Unit received a tip that Earl Chapman, 66, Bono, was “possibly sexually assaulting” a child under five 5 years old in Bono, the Jonesboro Police announced Wednesday.

The details of the allegation made by Arkansas State University Police were unavailable as Lt. Eric Thrasher was not in district court Friday. The probable cause affidavit was not provided to The Sun.

Child porn was found on one of Chapman’s electronic devices and he was subsequently arrested, according to police. His apprehension was part of a joint probe by HSI and the Northeast Arkansas Human Trafficking Task Force.

District Court Judge David Boling found probable cause Friday to charge him with distributing, possessing or viewing of matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child. A $500,000 cash or surety bond was set for Chapman.

In January, JPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit was alerted to Dale Doss, 52, of Turrell, “interacting in a suspicious manner” with a 14-year-old girl on Facebook.

Doss disclosed in the messages that he was aware of her age and continued to contact her. According to the probable cause affidavit, the conversation picked back up on Oct. 5, when he asked the girl to sneak out to ride side-by-sides.

“The conversation soon turns sexual,” it reads. “Doss asks the juvenile details about (her) sexual history and begins asking if he could perform various sex acts with her.”

Doss also sent a sexually explicit photo to the girl and tried to meet with her. He was arrested Thursday.

Boling found probable cause to charge Doss with internet stalking of a child and computer child pornography, both Class B felonies. A $500,000 cash or surety bond was set for him.

In September, ICAC was made aware that Lowell Caraker, 25, of Bono, was messaging a 14-year-old girl on Facebook as well, according to a sworn document.

Knowing the girl’s age, Caraker asked her “graphic, detailed questions” about her sexual experiences and if he could have sex with her, the affidavit states.

He continued messaging the girl explicit content even after he said, “I could get in trouble.”

Caraker was arrested Thursday and held on a computer child pornography charge. Boling set a $250,000 cash or surety bond as part of his pre-trial release.

Jeffrey Borden, 64, of Jonesboro, was being held on a $1 million bond for rape and sexual indecency with a child after police say he “made inappropriate contact” with three girls – age 11, 12 and 14 – in a hotel room this month.

Police learned of the incident on Oct. 5, when the victims’ parents told officers that they were allowed to visit with Borden for dinner and swimming at the Fairview Inn a day earlier, the narrative read. One of the victims, 14, told a woman at school what happened.

When trying on bathing suits at Target, the teen described a disturbing conversation with Borden. Among the items Borden purchased at Target were a white bra, thong panties and unitard; and a drinking card game with “sexual quotes on it.” Borden took photos of the girls swimming at the hotel and the 14-year-old’s genital area in the unitard.

While the girls were playing the drinking card game with him, he touched the girls’ genitals above and underneath their clothing, according to police.

All of the men are scheduled to appear in court Nov. 24 at the Craighead County Courthouse.