JONESBORO — Health officials expected the recent increase in coronavirus infections as more activities moved inside, but Dr. Shane Speights of Jonesboro said humans can still control the size of the increase.

“We had a good downward trend going and then hit a plateau about Oct. 26th of about 450 cases per day,” Speights, dean of the Jonesboro campus of the of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, said of Arkansas’ statistics. “Now, we are seeing about 600 cases per day. There are several contributing factors that are responsible for what we are seeing.”

He said events surrounding Halloween had the same effect of typical holidays where more people from different family units gathered in close proximity. Another factor is the reduction in the number of people wearing masks, he said.

“It’s really unfortunate that this has become a political conversation instead of scientific one,” Speights said. “Study after study now shows that appropriate mask wearing does reduce the risk of COVID spread. I can certainly understand the reason for the debate, and the fatigue of mask wearing, but it doesn’t change the science.

“Finally, we knew that cooler weather would contribute to the spread of disease as people start spending less time outside, and more time indoors where closer interactions and poorer air circulation occur. This happens even in non-COVID years with the spread of influenza and common respiratory viruses.”

Speights said several academic models have predicted a relatively mild COVID fall and winter.

“But it really depends on individual decision making – vaccination, mask wearing, travel habits, etc.,” Speights said. “We’ll just have to wait and see how the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays go.”

He said he hopes the region experiences a “bump” and not a “spike.”

In Northeast Arkansas, Greene, Jackson and Cross counties actually had declines in new cases in the past week, a Sun analysis of daily reports from the Arkansas Department of Health indicated. Craighead County had 163 new cases in that seven-day period, a 9.4 percent increase.

On Monday, the health department reported 17 new cases, bringing the cumulative total of 22,005 Craighead County residents who are believed to have become infected since the pandemic reached the state in March 2020. Mississippi County recorded nine new cases and one death, followed by Greene County with seven.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county Nov. 15 through Sunday:

Craighead – 163 new cases (increase of 14 from last week); 255 active cases (increase of 43); 248 total virus related deaths (increase of 2).

Greene – 65 new cases (decrease of 18); 119 active (unchanged); 124 deaths (unchanged).

Lawrence – 69 new cases (increase of 16); 96 active (increase of 19); 60 deaths (increase of 2).

Poinsett – 45 new cases (increase of 20); 63 active (increase of 14); 102 deaths (increase of 1).

Mississippi – 92 new cases (increase of 9); 162 active cases (increase of 29); 147 deaths (increase of 4).

Jackson – 62 new cases (decrease of 11) 106 active cases (decrease of 3); 46 deaths (unchanged).

Randolph – 28 new cases (increase of 8), 44 active cases (increase of 11); 63 deaths (increase of 1).

Cross –12 new cases (decrease of 6), 23 active cases (decrease of 1); 66 deaths (increase of 1).

Clay – 29 new cases (increase of 8); 42 active cases (increase of 8); 74 deaths (unchanged).