JONESBORO — City officials may have more than one face mask measure to consider as the number of coronavirus cases in Arkansas continues to grow.
Craighead County recorded 16 new COVID-19 cases Thursday as Arkansas reported the highest one-day increase of new hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
After receiving the results of 157 tests, Craighead County’s cumulative total of infections rose to 514.
The Arkansas Department of Health said 394 people in the state were hospitalized because of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, an increase of 36 since Wednesday. Hospital numbers in individual counties aren’t available.
The state reported at least 26,052 people have tested positive for the virus, an increase of 806 new confirmed cases since Wednesday. The department said 5,751 of those cases are active, meaning they don’t include people who have died or recovered.
Four more people have died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total fatalities to 309.
The rising numbers and projections that the pandemic will get even worse have prompted calls for mandatory use of face coverings in public settings.
But Gov. Asa Hutchinson has refused to issue a statewide mandate, and opposes local mandates. On June 3, the governor compromised and endorsed a model ordinance developed by the Arkansas Municipal League, an organization that provides support services for cities.
Several cities, including Conway, Rogers, Helena-West Helena and Hot Springs have already enacted the model ordinance, even though there are no direct penalties for individuals who violate the mandate.
Fort Smith and Siloam Springs have passed resolutions that “strongly” encourage wearing face masks.
Jonesboro council members Ann Williams and L.J. Bryant said Tuesday they want the council to enact the municipal league’s model ordinance. Council member Bobby Long, cautioned fellow members of a backlash. City Attorney Carol Duncan said Long may be writing an alternative measure.
Meanwhile, Bill Campbell, the city’s communications director, said Thursday Mayor Harold Perrin and other city officials were being “flooded” with emails from people on both sides of the issue.
Like Hutchinson, Perrin has been reluctant to call for a mandate. Perrin contends the model ordinance is unenforceable.
Also on Thursday, Hutchinson announced that the 2020-21 school year will be moved to start the week of Aug 24, no later than Aug. 26, according to a Facebook post on the Arkansas Education Association.
On another front, Jonesboro is listed as a city that is at risk for serious impacts from COVID-19 rates.
The Department of Population Health at New York University has developed a City Health Dashboard Local Risk Index among the 500 most populous cities in the country. On a scale of 1 to 10, Jonesboro rates a 7, because of risk levels based on factors that could contribute to high numbers of COVID-19 cases and severe health outcomes, such as socioeconomic status, age and underlying health conditions.
Dr. Joe Thompson, president of the nonprofit Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said his organization uses the index as it studies the role that social determinants of health play in the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is not impacting all groups equally,” Thompson, a former state health director, said in a news release. “For example, Blacks make up nearly 30 percent of cases and deaths in the U.S., despite only accounting for 16 percent of the population. The public health response to this pandemic must take into account the higher risk that some communities face because of social determinants of health, or ZIP code risk. We thank City Health Dashboard for providing this useful tool.”
The Dashboard is a one-stop resource for viewing and comparing data from multiple sources on health and the factors that shape health to guide local solutions.
Fort Smith had a risk value of 9, Little Rock 8, Springdale 6 and Fayetteville 3.
The average value across the 500 cities being tracked is 5.5.
Thursday Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county:
Craighead – 514 confirmed (up 16), with 67 still active, 440 recovered, 11,660 negative tests, 7 deaths.
Lawrence – 111 confirmed (up 4), 15 active, 87 recovered, 1,715 negative, 9 deaths.
Greene – 141 confirmed (up 7), 26 active, 115 recovered, 4,2458 negative, 0 deaths.
Poinsett – 64 confirmed (unchanged), 7 active, 54 recovered, 1,770 negative, 3 deaths.
Randolph – 61 confirmed (up 2), 17 active, 43 recovered, 2,059 negative, 1 death.
Clay – 77 confirmed (up 4), 17 active, 57 recovered, 3 deaths.
Jackson – 39 confirmed (up 2), 13 active, 26 recovered, 1,263 negative, 0 deaths.
Mississippi – 275 (up 10) confirmed, 120 active, 152 recovered, 4,1840 negative, 3 deaths.
Cross – 93 confirmed (up 3), 8 active, 84 recovered, 1,528 negative, 1 death.
Sharp – 61 confirmed (up 3), 10 active, 46 recovered, 1,191 negative, 5 deaths.
Crittenden – 815 confirmed (up 16), 118 active, 684 recovered, 6,313 negative, 13 deaths.
St. Francis – 898 confirmed (up 4), 27 active, 868 recovered, 4,343 negative, 3 deaths.