JONESBORO — Coronavirus cases continued to surge through Arkansas Thursday with a daily-record 1,278 new confirmed and probable cases reported.

And with Northeast Arkansas experiencing high rates of infection, local officials called for residents to be on heightened alert for the safety of themselves and loved ones in the near future.

Craighead County reported 61 new cases Thursday, the fourth-highest number in the state. The number of active cases also continues to rise, said Mayor Harold Perrin said in a news release.

“I know people are stressed already, and I feel for everyone. But this is going to be with us for quite some time,” said Perrin, who has to be especially careful because he is undergoing chemotherapy, which weakens the immune system, at a time when COVID-19 is especially dangerous to the immune deficient. “I am very focused on COVID awareness in my current condition, and I am especially focused after seeing our numbers climb remarkably over the past week.”

The Department of Health reported that the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, rose by 1,068 to 91,303, and probable cases rose by 210 to 5,221. That brought the combined COVID-19 total for the outbreak to 96,524, with 8,424 cases active and 594 requiring hospitalization, seven more than Wednesday. Patients needing breathing assistance fell by seven to 106.

“I expected the number of new cases to increase as we enter the last part of the week,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “This has been the pattern, but the cases reported today set a new record high. Our increased testing efforts allow us to find cases already present and react to them. Each one of us must be proactive in our individual efforts to help slow the spread of this virus.”

The state’s total COVID-19 fatalities rose by 11 to 1,494.

The health department also reported Thursday there were 619 active cases in the public schools, including 19 in the Jonesboro district. Five other districts across the state have more, including Springdale with 43.

Other area school districts and the number of active cases: Brookland and Nettleton, 12 each; Marked Tree, 11; Newport, 9; Hoxie, Manila and Pocahontas, 7 each; and Jackson County (Tuckerman), Paragould and Valley View, 5 each. The state doesn’t identify any districts with fewer than five cases.

At Monday’s bi-weekly Craighead County pandemic update, Emergency Management Director Anthony Coy said the recent spike is “disheartening and frightening, but not unexpected.”

Coy cited past and current warnings for County and City medical directors, including Dr. Shane Speights, Dean of NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine. Speights had told the meetings of emergency responders that UAMS models predicted heightened spikes by October.

He said even larger spikes currently seen in the Dakotas and Wisconsin could portend what faces Arkansas in cooler months. While winter is flu season and annually creates a rise in deaths, COVID-19 has already taken three times the lives of a typical flu season.

“This is much more contagious than the flu, but it works the same way as far as when people get together,” Speights said. “And in the winter, people tend to gather indoors with less ability to keep windows open.”

Speights said hospitalizations are high and a major concern is keeping doctors and nurses healthy, as well as patients.

“I think all hospitals have capacity. My concern is staffing,” he said. “A lot of nurses are younger or have children, and if they have to quarantine, I see a domino effect. That would be my concern as we get more and more into this.”

He said scientists are studying other places, including the state of Maine, which has implemented similar strategies as Arkansas but so far has seen much better outcomes.

“I don’t know if they are doing a better job of social distancing or masking,” Speights said. “But we need to understand, because if there is something we need to do better, it will save lives.”

Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott said his department has reported overall good behavior by residents in stores, but he believes people need to be extra cautious now that we are a hotspot.

“We have to really step up right now,” Elliott said. “Masks, distancing, not being in crowds – they are all very important to protecting Jonesboro.”

He said reports of possible “super-spreader” events have created problems, and that JPD and the Arkansas Department of Health can be contacted by anyone with concerns about businesses not following state guidelines or gatherings of large crowds.

To contact ADH in Jonesboro, call 870-933-4585. To contact JPD for non-emergency services, call 870-935-5553.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Thursday:

Craighead – 3,710 confirmed (up 61 from Wednesday), 1453 probable (up 5), 4878 active cases; 29 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

Greene – 1,128 confirmed (up 42), 67 probable (up 4); 205 active; 15 confirmed deaths.

Lawrence – 628 confirmed (up 51), 65 probable (up 2); 169 active; 14 confirmed deaths.

Poinsett – 821 confirmed (up 12); 125 active; 14 confirmed deaths, 1 probable.

Mississippi – 1,881 confirmed (up 23), 63 probable (up 3); 154 active cases; 46 confirmed deaths, 11 probable.

Jackson – 436 confirmed (up 8), 149 probable (up 5); 156 active cases; 4 confirmed deaths, 1 probable.

Randolph – 474 confirmed (up 10), 92 probable (up 1); 74 active cases; 18 confirmed deaths, 5 probable.

Cross – 488 confirmed (up 2), 33 probable (up 1); 26 active cases; 17 confirmed deaths, 2 probable.

Clay – 380 confirmed (up 6), 25 probable (up 3); 48 active cases;, 9 confirmed deaths, 2 probable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

inman@jonesborosun.com