JONESBORO — A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force that went unpublished shows Arkansas in the coronavirus red zone as of July 14.
However, Craighead County is in the yellow zone for new cases per 100,000 and weekly percent change in new cases per 100,000 last week, according to an article by the Center for Public Integrity.
For a county to be in the yellow zone for new cases and weekly percent change in new cases per 100,000, the county must have had 10 to 99.9 new cases per 100,000 during the last week and a weekly percent change of 10 to 99.9 percent more cases per 100,000.
Craighead County was below the yellow zone in both test positivity during the last week and weekly change in test positivity. The county showed just 0 to 4 percent growth in test positivity and less than 1 percent of change in weekly change test positivity.
Mississippi County, which neighbors Craighead, is considered a red zone county in the document. Mississippi County has seen a 20 percent or more increase in test positivity during the last week, a more than 10 percent weekly change in test positivity, 100 to 499.9 new cases per 100,000 during the last week and percent change between 10 percent and 99.9 percent in new cases per 100,000. The county’s most populous city, Blytheville, is considered the only red zone city in Northeast Arkansas, while the nearest yellow zone city is Memphis. Crittenden County also qualified as a red zone county.
Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at A-State, said it’s not unexpected to see cases in Mississippi County and Crittenden County bleed over from Memphis. However, Speights said commuters from those counties to Craighead do pose a risk, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will lead to a spread in Jonesboro. He said it underscores the importance that everyone does their part to slow the spread.
Ty Jones, director of marketing at NEA Baptist, agrees that if masks and PPE are used with social distancing, the risk of traveling from red zone counties will be greatly reduced.
According to the document, which received its information from COVID-19 Electronic Lab Reporting, the seven day average of daily tests completed in Arkansas has started to decline, but the percent positivity rate is continually rising. Speights explained that testing in other states where there are coronavirus surges, such as Florida and California, plays a factor in how Arkansas is able to test residents. The tests are usually done by national third-party vendors, said Speights.
Arkansas’ congressional delegation sent Vice President Mike Pence a letter July 13 requesting testing reagents. Recently, according to the letter, a lab canceled its testing contracts with Arkansas hospitals because of a lack of sufficient testing reagents while Arkansas hospitals have had their internal testing capacity limited to 10 percent of their machines’ and staff’s ability to run tests for the same reason.
Jones said the lab cancelation hasn’t had any affect on NEA because it contracts with Baptist Health and the company uses American Esoteric Laboratories.
Arkansas is in the red zone for new cases per 100,000 last week and the yellow zone for test positivity with a rate between 5 and 10 percent. Arkansas saw 139 new cases per 100,000 last week, compared to the national average of 119.
The document recommends closing bars and gyms in hot spot counties, testing households in one tube with rapid turnaround testing while providing clear guidance for households that do test positive, expanding texting capacity and mandate public use of masks in current and growing hot spots. Gov. Asa Hutchinson enacted a mask mandate Thursday regardless if the county is considered a hot spot.
The other states in the COVID red zone are Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. All other states besides Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, are considered to be in the COVID yellow zone right now.