Delta Blues is a term describing music that was made and played in the Mississippi Delta region, but it could have a whole new connotation as the worst disease outbreak since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic grips the region once more. Arkansas has become one of the hot spots in the country for the spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, and Northeast Arkansas is feeling the impact.
Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver posted on social media during the weekend that two weeks ago Craighead County had 50 active cases and that number has ballooned to more than 365 – a nearly 500% spike.
During the last 14 days, the number of hospitalizations in Arkansas has doubled to 687. UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson recently told Talk Business & Politics the number of cases and hospitalizations is rising dramatically and is being fueled by the lack of vaccinations.
Patterson said the Delta variant is much more contagious, and has the potential to be more lethal. The average age of patients admitted during the last COVID-19 surge was in the 60s, but that number has dropped to people in their 40s and several patients have had to have lung and heart bypasses.
The New York Times featured a piece this weekend on the problems in Arkansas due to the lack of vaccinations. It focused on the city of Mountain Home, in Baxter County that abuts the central Arkansas/Missouri border.
Cases in the town have exploded in recent weeks and hospitalizations have risen by 10-fold, The Times discovered. Overall, in Arkansas the number of people fully and partially vaccinated is around 45%.
“I know you’re tired of hearing about COVID. If you haven’t been vaccinated, for whatever reason, you’re tired of hearing people tell you to get it. I understand,” Copenhaver said in his Twitter post. “The good news is that the Delta variant now attacking us is covered by all of our current COVID vaccines … Our way out is clear. Please get the vaccination.”
Hospitals in the area are dealing with an influx of new patients, Copenhaver said. Talk Business & Politics has learned that several specialized COVID-19 units within the hospital systems in Jonesboro that were shut down when the caseload waned will now be reopened.
“NYIT – our local medical college – is moving its activities back to a virtual environment and requiring masks,” Copenhaver said. “I would hate to see such a situation return to our community, and I am sad for the hundreds suffering right now.”
The Delta variant is much more infectious than the original COVID-19. A person infected with the original strain would typically infect 2-3 other people. A person infected with the new Delta variant typically infects 6-8 people, according to the latest research.
Statewide, the number of deaths attributed to the disease is 6,007 as of Monday (July 19), according to the Arkansas Department of Health. At least 187 of those deaths happened in Craighead County. Northeast Arkansas’ largest county has had at least 14,334 confirmed cases since March 2020. Death tolls are a lagging indicator, meaning the numbers could be rising faster than reported.
“We have another school year ahead. We have football season coming. We have parties and festivals and businesses we want to see succeed. Perhaps most important, we have hospital staff and workers we don’t want to put through this again,” Copenhaver said. “I’m tired of hearing about COVID. But the cold bottom line is we are going to keep hearing about it until we collectively do something about it.”