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Arkansas virus toll at 259; cases rise 570 in day

New infections still high, health official says by Andy Davis, Frank E. Lockwood | June 28, 2020 at 7:50 a.m.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19.

Ten more coronavirus deaths were reported Saturday in Arkansas, increasing the toll to 259. In the past week, 35 covid-19 deaths were registered statewide, according to figures from the Arkansas Department of Health.

Since the start of the pandemic, Arkansas has tallied 19,310 positive coronavirus tests, an increase of 570 since Friday.

The daily figures, which were provisional and subject to change, typically reflect the 24-hour period ending at about 10 a.m., department spokeswoman Meg Mirivel said.

Of the new cases, 11 have been traced to correctional facilities, while 559 originated elsewhere.

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Saturday's total was higher than the 511 reported the previous Saturday, but lower than Friday's 678.

The number of new cases "is still quite high [but] it's not as bad as it has been on some days recently," said Dr. Joel Tumlison, a Health Department physician consultant for outbreak response. "I think we're just going to have to wait and see if things are really improving, stabilizing or if they'll go up again next week."

Most of the 19,310 people who have tested positive for the virus in Arkansas -- 13,270 -- have already recovered. Another 5,781 are still active.

Tumlison said it's "a little encouraging" that the overall number of active cases increased by just 74 on Saturday.

With the number of cases rising, it's crucial for people to take precautions, Tumlison said.

"Wearing a mask, staying 6 feet away, not gathering in large groups, those kinds of things are the only real mechanisms we have [to guard against the virus]," he said.

"As people are out and about more, as groups are meeting more, as more businesses are open ... there's more opportunity for transmission," he said. "By the end of this, if you haven't had close contact with someone with covid-19, you're going to feel fortunate."

In Arkansas, prisons were hit hard early as were long-term-care facilities.

Of Saturday's active cases, 111 were in nursing homes and 569 were in correctional facilities, with 5,101 elsewhere, Tumlison said.

In the past week, total cases jumped from 15,142 to 19,310, an increase of roughly 27.5%. On average, 595 new cases were identified per day during that period.

Saturday's report showed 278 people hospitalized because of covid-19, down six from Friday. Sixty-three patients were reported as being on ventilators, the same as the previous day.

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Since the start of the pandemic, 1,373 people have been hospitalized because of covid-19 and 210 have been on ventilators, according to the Health Department.

No area of the state is being hit harder than Northwest Arkansas. Washington County, with 3,238 cases, leads the state. Benton County, with 2,573 cases, is second. Pulaski County, the state's largest county by population, has had 1,810 cases.

The number of Benton County cases climbed 119 Saturday, while Washington County increased by 98. Pulaski County cases rose by 70.

With Northwest Arkansas hit particularly hard, health officials are emphasizing the importance of testing.

Saturday in Fayetteville, veterans and their caregivers were the focus.

"We tested 493 people this morning," said Cassie Cochran, the Health Department's northwest region director, noting that the event had been done in partnership with the Veterans Affairs Department. "There was no screening. You didn't have to have symptoms. If you came through, then you were going to receive a test."

Additional testing is planned today for parishioners at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Springdale.

The 24,500-member parish, the largest in the state, holds Mass six times each Sunday -- four in Spanish and two in English.

"We felt like that was a good way to reach out to our Hispanic community members and offer testing to them in a place that they already were familiar with and felt secure coming to," Cochran added.

In Arkansas, Hispanics account for 24% of all covid-19 cases and 8% of the deaths. Only 7.8% of the state's residents are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Several parishioners have tested positive for the virus. Worshippers are required to wear masks and to social-distance, and there's no indication there's been any spread during church services, the Rev. John Connell said.

Since the start of the pandemic, results from 291,222 tests have been reported in Arkansas. Roughly 93.4%of those -- 271,912 -- were negative.

While the Health Department is carefully tracking coronavirus testing, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is starting an antibody testing program.

Researchers plan to collect blood samples from nearly 7,500 children and adults between now and October.

"The goal is ... to figure out how many people have been infected with covid," said Karl Boehme, an associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology.

The data will prove useful as officials weigh their responses to the pandemic.

The selection process is still in flux.

"We're going to try to recruit every corner of the state across the socioeconomic spectrum," Boehme said.

Every corner of Arkansas is dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

Among the state's 75 counties, only Calhoun County, population 5,189, has had no confirmed cases.

Statewide, 15.9% of the Arkansas cases have been in correctional facilities, while 2.6% have been in nursing homes. Health care workers account for 6.1% of the cases.

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Of the 259 deaths, 95 -- or 36.7% -- have been linked to nursing homes. Twelve -- or 4.6% -- have been connected to correctional facilities, according to the Health Department.

Of those testing positive, 54% are male, 44% are female and 2% are unknown.

As is the case elsewhere, covid-19 is proving particularly devastating in older populations. People 65 and older accounted for 10% of the cases but 71% of the deaths.

People ages 45-64 account for 27% of the cases and 23% of the deaths.

Those ages 25-44 made up 37% of all cases and 6% of all the deaths, according to the Health Department website. Children age 17 and under account for 12% of the cases, while people 18-24 make up 13% of the cases.

No deaths in the state have been reported among those younger than 25.

People falling ill in Arkansas are disproportionately nonwhite.

While whites make up 79% of the state's population, they account for 51% of the state's covid-19 cases and 55% of fatalities. Blacks make up 25% of those testing positive and 27% of those who die; the state's population is 15.7% black. One percent of those testing positive are Asian, who make up 1.7% of the state population. They also account for 1% of the deaths.

Pacific Islanders represent 8% of those testing positive and 9% of those succumbing to covid-19, state data shows. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders make up 0.4% of the state's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 15% of all Arkansas covid-19 cases and in 8% of the deaths, the race is listed as "other."

Many of those testing positive have additional health problems: 11.6% have hypertension; 7.3% have diabetes; 2.6% have heart disease; 2.1% have chronic pulmonary disease; and 0.7% are immuno-compromised, according to Health Department data.

Coronavirus daily updates and cumulative covid-19 cases in Arkansas

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