The first week in November Arkansas saw record numbers of new cases of people testing positive for the virus that causes Covid-19. Cases had been averaging fewer than 1,000 per day before zooming up to 1,548 on Nov. 5, then 1,870 on Nov. 6, and 1,598 on Nov. 7, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). On Nov. 8, the state broke a record for the number of people hospitalized with Covid at 741.
Crystal Ursin, a local citizen scientist who has been closely following the epidemic, said it is also of concern that Carroll County added 298 additional cases between Oct. 8 and Nov. 8.
“We are at 1,041 cases now and the number of deaths recently almost doubled because of the nine deaths at the Autumn Hill Therapy and Living Center,” Ursin said. “Carroll County now has twenty deaths from Covid-19.”
Ursin attributes much of the increase to what has been called Covid fatigue. People are so tired of quarantining that they are relaxing their guard. There were some reports of Halloween activities in Eureka Springs without social distancing or masks, and Ursin is concerned the town could see an increase in cases from that.
“With the numbers going up, we need to stay vigilant,” she said. “I’m really worried about Thanksgiving. Something the state needs to do is focus more on reminding people that one of the most common ways Covid is spreading is family gatherings. It doesn’t matter if you are in the same family if you live in different households. If each household has four of five people, and five households are getting together, that is an exponential possibility of contamination.”
Arkansas now has had cumulative confirmed cases of 110,016 with 9,470 considered active. There have been 1,899 confirmed deaths.
The ADH and Gov. Asa Hutchinson are reportedly considering more restrictions to help combat the virus. Those include a proposed 28-day pause that would shift schools online, ban social gatherings of more than ten, and close bars and restaurants to on-site dining. The governor is also considering increasing the frequency of his virus briefings, which were held daily earlier in the pandemic.
“It is very difficult to keep the virus within the six-foot limitations they are giving in restaurants,” Ursin said. “I make sure if I do takeout that everyone in the restaurant – cooks and servers – wear masks at all times. But I only do takeout from one place now because I can see in the window and watch everybody. That could be safer than Hart’s even.”
There was an unexpected announcement on Nov. 9 from Pfizer, Inc., that its coronavirus vaccine trials have indicated the shots may be 90 percent effective at preventing Covid-19. The company is planning to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
“It is good news,” Ursin said. “We need a vaccine with a high success rate. The Pfizer trial had a 90 percent success rate with 44,000 people in the trials. What was interesting is the company was not part of Operation Warp Speed, which allocated $10 billion in government funding to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. There are still questions about how long the immunity might last. Pfizer said it is going to be monitoring everyone in the trial for two years to see how long it will last. Will it last 30 days, two months, a year?”
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement reports that 35 Arkansas school districts have had 50 or more new known Covid-19 infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period covering the last week in October and the first week in November. ACHI considers those school districts in the “red zone” for infections among community residents living within the geographical boundaries of the school districts.
ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson wrote in a press release that the decrease from 40 school districts in the red zone last week to 35 this past week continues a slight decline.
“Unfortunately, we are still in a much worse position than we were a month ago, when only 13 districts were in the red zone,” Thompson said. “Residents of these 35 districts should be especially careful to take precautions against further spread: Wash your hands frequently, maintain 6 feet of distance from people who are not members of your household, and wear a mask in shared public spaces.”
Green Forest is one of the districts that dropped out of the red zone with fewer infections. Carroll County has no school districts in the red zone.