LITTLE ROCK — The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences released a new COVID-19 forecasting model July 3 predicting a grim autumn for Arkansans unless there is almost complete compliance with public mask wearing.
The model, using data up to July 1, forecasts that there will be 20,000 new daily infections by the end of September if conditions do not change. With some increase in mitigation the model shows 12,000 new daily infections. However, if there is almost complete compliance with mask wearing in public, the new daily infections prediction is cut to 6,000.
“The modeling changes weekly, based upon what the data shows,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday during his daily COVID-19 update. “They pointed out for the first time that even if it got to the level of their predictions, that we have the hospital capacity to cover that. And so their data is going to change weekly based upon how we perform. They’re absolutely right that behavior makes a difference and the fact that their modeling flattened out shows that behavior is improving and that it’s making a difference in Arkansas.”
Dr. Shane Speights, Jonesboro City Medical Director and Dean of New York Institute of Technology Osteopathic Medicine at A-State, said the forecast “underscores the comment that’s been made – we’re not even close to being done.”
The research for the forecast explains that something happened the last three weeks of June that greatly enhanced the rate at which infections were spreading. The number of new coronavirus cases in Arkansas changed so drastically after June 19 that they were no longer providing an accurate forecast, according to the report.
Hutchinson moved Arkansas to Phase 2 of reopening June 15.
The short-term models predict that Arkansas will reach 30,000 total cases and 375 deaths by July 12. Right now, the actual number of daily cases is now higher than would have been forecast on March 25.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, there are currently 25,246 people who have tested positive so far this year. The long-term forecasts show that active, not total, cases will be 150,000 on Oct. 30 if nothing changes.
The research has also shown a disparity among minorities and whites concerning positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths per 10,000. According to the report, minorities have a 135.4 positive case rate per 10,000 while whites have 33.6 rate. Minorities also have a 9.5 hospitalization rate and a 1.4 death rate per 10,000, while whites have a 2.5 and 0.3 hospitalization and death rate.
The disparity “brings to light health care data we know,” Speights said. He said Arkansas ranks toward the bottom in health care, and low-income people and minorities would suffer the most during a pandemic.
Speights said the good thing about the model is it bears attention because it’s specific to our population, and we have time to plan and alter the prediction.
“We can change it if we’re willing to,” Speights said.
A proposed ordinance requiring face masks in public could go before the Jonesboro City Council’s public safety committee as early as next week.