“Rapid community viral spread” of COVID-19 could exceed Arkansas’ previous peak numbers that included 66 deaths and more than 4,300 new cases reported in one day, according to new modeling from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
Two primary reasons for an expected new surge that is already pressuring the state’s medical industry are the more transmissible Delta variant and the state’s low vaccination rate, noted the modeling report posted Tuesday (July 20). No county in the last month has exceeded a 5% increase in the number of persons over 12 who are vaccinated. However, the UAMS authors note the Delta variant has changed the rules to the extent the predictions posted Tuesday may be low.
“The COVID-19 pandemic in Arkansas radically changed in the last two weeks. For this reason, the models we show in this report may already be out of date. In addition to the data presented in this report, our research suggests Arkansas is at the beginning of an exponential surge, which, in the long-term, may exceed the December/January surge in terms of cases and hospitalizations,” noted the report. “Our considered opinion is, with low vaccination rates, few Arkansans practicing personal mitigation behaviors, and state policies that seem to discourage protective measures, Arkansas is set to experience increased numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.”
Arkansas’ previous surge peaked in late December and January with a record 4,304 new cases reported on Jan. 1, a record 27,822 active cases posted Jan. 9, and a record 1,371 hospitalizations reported on Jan. 11. A record 66 deaths was reported Dec. 29.
Following are some key points UAMS authors identified.
• The COVID-19 test positivity rate in the state is over 20%. This is five times the national average. Although testing rates are low, this is a very high positivity rate, suggesting rapid community viral spread.
• The 15-day model forecasts 371,276 cumulative COVID-19 cases in Arkansas by July 26, an increase of 16,000 new cases over what was reported by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) on June 18. In the next 15 days, the number is expected to increase by an average of 1,039 cases per day.
• The 30-day model forecasts 392,772 cumulative infections on Aug. 9, an increase of almost 36,000 cases over the number reported by the ADH on June 18, or an average of 1,236 cases per day.
• The 15-day models continue to show Arkansans between ages 35 and 59 have the highest number of COVID-19 diagnoses, forecast to increase by 5,591 cases, and average of 372 cases per day. The model also forecasts an increase of 2,538 cases in children under 17, or a daily average of 169 cases.
• The 15-day models forecast 19,970 cumulative hospitalizations and 5,660 cumulative intensive care patients by July 26. This means a daily average of 37 new patients and 20 new intensive care patients respectively.
• The 30-day model forecasts 20,850 cumulative hospitalizations by Aug. 11, a daily average of 48 new patients. The group with the greatest number of hospitalizations continues to be adults ages 60 to 74. However, the 15-day model suggests hospitalizations of adults 35 to 59 will exceed those of patients 60 to 74 in the very near future.
• The 15-day model forecasts 6,043 cumulative COVID-19 deaths by July 26, a daily average of almost three deaths.
Hospitals in rural counties could be the most stressed during what UAMS is calling a “third wave.” Rural areas often have higher per capita infection rates and high rates of other chronic medical issues.
“We can surmise these are the counties that will have significant problems protecting the health of their populations during future pandemics or the emerging“third wave” of COVID-infections associated with the Delta variant,” according to the report.
The report also said the surge could risk the state’s economic health, suggesting that the public may again self-isolate and consumers could again hoard products.
“The long-term impact will result from increasing numbers of employees who are seriously ill and unable to work, increasing number of employees who will manifest long-COVID symptoms, and disruptions to the supply chain. There may even be economic consequences if Arkansas is perceived as an unhealthy vacation or conference destination,” noted the report.