Early in the pandemic, Carroll County had few cases of Covid-19. On June 12, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) reported 56 cases and one death in Carroll County. On Friday, Oct. 9, one day totals alone were 48 new cases with total cases increasing to 858. Eleven county residents have died from the disease.
“It is scary,” Crystal Ursin, a citizen scientist who has been closely following the Covid metrics, said. “Carroll County has gone up 329 cases since September 9.”
Ursin is alarmed, but not surprised. There were big crowds in Eureka Springs Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day. And Sept. 23-26, the city swarmed with hundreds of motorcyclists who showed up even though Bikes, Blues & BBQ Fayetteville had been cancelled.
The numbers come as both the world and the U.S. are seeing record numbers of new Covid-19 cases. On October 10, Arkansas reached a new high of 576 patients hospitalized with Covid-19. State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha attributed the increase in hospitalizations to gatherings over Labor Day weekend.
Johns Hopkins ranks Arkansas ninth highest in the country for the number of new Covid-19 cases per population. Washington and Benton counties added 700 new cases of Covid-19 in the previous week.
Last weekend again saw a surge of visitors to Eureka Springs, a trend Ursin called disturbing.
“It doesn’t look good because this past month we have had progressively higher numbers of new cases than in earlier months, and Eureka Springs is a hot spot for tourism in the fall,” she said. “My concern is the police chief and officers in Eureka Springs have openly admitted they are not enforcing the governor’s mandates. Even if they don’t give people a fine, they could ask people to please put a mask on.”
Dr. Dan Bell said the recent case totals represent a dramatic increase. And it will forever remain unknown how many visitors to Eureka Springs who aren’t masking and social distancing catch Covid-19 here, and then take it back home where they could infect others.
Bell is opposed to any special events that attract more people.
“We have largely been spared here in Eureka Springs and Carroll County, so there is not much immunity,” Bell said. “Less than four percent of our population has been exposed, so that says 96 percent have no immunity. There are lots of people left to be exposed. That is of concern with all the visitors who are not abiding by mask regulations and social distancing. Clearly, our worst times are ahead of us.”
There has been some potentially good news on the Covid front with the estimated death rate being less than originally estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate is now reported at 0.65 percent of cases when earlier it was estimated at about three percent.
Bell said the lower death rate could be a consequence of a variety of factors: more young people who have milder cases are contracting the virus; more testing is being done so more mild cases are being identified; and progress has been made treating the disease with anticoagulants and antivirals.
“Not everyone is getting the kind of treatment the president got, but even the common Joe is getting more effective treatment than at first,” Bell said.
Doug Stowe was also concerned with the increase of 48 cases in one day.
“It is like people are so fed up with distancing that they are ready to bust loose beyond their common sense,” Stowe said. “The town seemed to be busy this weekend. I think a lot of people were adhering to the requirement for masks, but I don’t think huffing and puffing down the street with tons of other people is the smartest thing to do.”
Stowe said it troubles him that India, which is notoriously overcrowded and poor with a much larger population, has done a better job handling the pandemic than the U.S., which leads the world in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
“A lot has to do with health officials being undermined by our current administration,” Stowe said.
India has had 7.12 million cases of Covid-19 and 109,000 deaths. The U.S. has had 7.8 million cases and 215,000 deaths.
Ursin feels that the calculations about the death rates being lower than earlier estimated are not necessarily reassuring.
“I don’t 100 percent believe it because of how they are calculating the recovery rate,” she said. “A friend still has a lot of Covid health symptoms after eight weeks. He could get worse. He could get better. I don’t consider him recovered. People with Covid now have a pre-existing condition that may cause heart attacks, lung problems, limb loss, etc. There is a list as long as my arm of conditions that people may have for the rest of their lives.”
Ursin feels current regulations are inadequate to protect public health. For example, currently in Arkansas people can eat inside restaurants after entering with a mask. They can take the mask off after being served food or drink. But the CDC recently concluded the virus can spread in the air. Ursin said unless the restaurant has a high-grade medical air filter, the virus can circulate in the air.
She is also seeing a lot of people at local stores who are not wearing masks properly. They cover their mouth, but not their nose.