JONESBORO — A local medical expert says he fears the surge in the coronavirus will be at its worst at the worst possible time.
The Arkansas Department of Health reported 844 new cases statewide on Monday including 44 in Craighead County. The total number of active cases statewide rose to 18,922. The statewide death toll rose to 6,199 after 42 deaths were reported Monday. One of those deaths was a Craighead County resident.
Hospital admissions rose statewide by 81 to a total of 1,220, including 250 on ventilators.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson took note.
“Today’s increase in hospitalizations is the highest increase we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic,” Hutchinson said in a Facebook post. “We continue to see nearly all hospitalizations among the unvaccinated. Do your part to help. Hospitals are full & the only remedy is for more Arkansans to be vaccinated.”
Craighead County saw a 21.8 percent rise in new coronavirus infections in a seven-day period that ended Sunday, according to data collected from the Arkansas Department of Health. The number of active cases in the county rose by 39.7 percent from 649 to 907. Two deaths last week raised the death toll to 190.
Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the Jonesboro campus of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, has watched the surge trends from the delta variant in other countries and concluded, “We’re not in a good place.” Speights said the trends indicate Northeast Arkansas virus cases will hit a peak in mid-August, followed by a six-week downward trend.
“On the surface that sounds like great news, but unfortunately the time we are expected to peak is the precise time that we are slated to see K-12 and colleges/universities start the academic year,” Speights said Sunday in an email to The Sun. “So all bets are off. This is not the same virus we saw this time last year. The delta variant infects far more people than the original strain of COVID.
“Across the country vaccination rates are the lowest for those aged 12-15, followed by 16-17, and of course those under 12 can’t be vaccinated. Vaccine breakthrough infections are the highest in areas of low vaccination (Arkansas is one of the lowest in the country at 36 percent). Virtual schooling is no longer an option for some and there is no ability of the school districts to enforce masking of students, staff or faculty to prevent the spread of disease.”
Speights said reports of large numbers of infections among children attending summer camps offers a glimpse of what to expect as classes resume.
“In short, I’m afraid it’s going to be a mess,” Speights said, adding, “I’ve never wanted to be wrong more than I do now, but it just doesn’t look good. My advice at this point: Get vaccinated if you haven’t, and follow the CDC guidelines if you aren’t.”
More people are responding to the advice. In the past week, 1,600 received vaccine doses in Craighead County, up from 1,535 the previous week, according to health department data. Three-fourths of those were getting their first shots. As of Monday, at least 45.6 percent of the county’s population had at least their first dose of the vaccine, compared to the state average of 53.8 percent.
Ty Jones, spokesman for NEA Baptist Medical Center, said testing demand has increased as more in Northeast Arkansas show symptoms of the virus. Of 1,728 tests administered, 21.6 percent were positive, up from 17.4 percent the previous week.
“We currently have a total of 47 patients positive for COVID 19,” Jones said, “17 of those patients are in intensive care at this time, with 12 being treated with a ventilator or bilevel positive airway pressure.”
He said 87.2 percent of the currently hospitalized patients had not been vaccinated.
Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county July 26 through Sunday:
Craighead – 541 new cases (increase of 97, 21.8 percent, from last week); 907 active cases (increase of 258; 190 deaths (increase of 2).
Greene – 123 new cases (increase of 34); 329 active (increase of 100); 80 deaths (unchanged).
Lawrence – 35 new cases (increase of 4); 55 active (increase of 2); 43 deaths (unchanged).
Poinsett – 94 new cases (increase of 22); 150 active (increase of 47); 82 deaths (increase of 2).
Mississippi – 191 new cases (increase of 115); 149 active cases (increase of 44); 111 deaths (increase of 1).
Jackson – 44 new cases (decrease of 3); 76 active cases (increase of 15); 38 deaths (unchanged).
Randolph – 43 new cases (increase of 12), 68 active cases (increase of 18); 48 deaths (unchanged).
Cross – 67 new cases (decrease of 4); 119 active cases (increase of 19); 53 deaths (unchanged).
Clay –30 new cases (decrease of 7); 60 active cases (decrease of 9); 52 deaths (unchanged).
Figures for full and partial vaccinations of persons age 12 and older in Northeast Arkansas as of Monday:
Craighead, 31,506 (34.31 percent), 10,363 (11.28 percent).
Clay, 4,607 (36.73 percent), 820 (6.54 percent).
Cross, 5,307 (38.15 percent), 1,522 (10.94 percent).
Greene, 12,987 (34.07 percent), 3,403 (8.93 percent).
Jackson, 4,321 (29.8 percent), 1,095 (7.55 percent).
Lawrence, 4,687 (33.36 percent), 1,351 (9.61 percent).
Mississippi, 10,134 (30.09 percent), 2,557 (7.59 percent).
Poinsett, 6,254 (31.57 percent), 2,153 (10.87 percent).
Randolph, 4,651 (30.719 percent), 1,525 (10.07 percent).