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Arkansas health officials fear 'significant' covid-19 spike after Labor Day gatherings

by Lara Farrar | September 7, 2021 at 7:19 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. - Photo by NIAID-RML via AP

Public health officials say they are concerned there could be a "significant increase" in covid-19 cases across the state on the heels of social gatherings and travel over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

That spike could show up in about a week, Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the state's chief medical officer, said.

While new cases of the coronavirus were not as high as previous days, the Arkansas Department of Health reported an increase of 937 cases Monday as well as 13 additional deaths, bringing the total deaths from the pandemic to 7,070.

New cases increased by 1,072 Sunday, according to Health Department data. Deaths increased by 19 Sunday.

"Our numbers are lower than last week, as expected," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a tweet Monday evening. "Hospital space has continued to become available over the past few days, but we need to protect ourselves with vaccinations and that also reduces the burden on our healthcare workers."

There are 1,220 patients hospitalized for covid-19. Of those, 320 are on ventilators, the Health Department reported.

Dillaha, the state's epidemiologist, said about half of the patients placed on ventilators do not survive.

Dillaha also said that because of the holiday, the state's coronavirus numbers might not be reflective of the amount of illness circulating in communities. Some testing sites may have a delay in reporting results while individuals who are sick may not get tested until later this week.

Still, she said, the 6,836 test results that the Health Department received Sunday from testing sites across the state were higher than expected for a holiday weekend, another sign that the coronavirus remains a threat in Arkansas.

Dillaha said the number of active cases in the state "is just the tip of the iceberg" in terms of the actual caseload in the general population. Active cases declined by 1,668 Monday to 21,675.

"There are people who don't develop symptoms and don't get tested or may have mild symptoms and do not seek medical care," she said. "We also know that over a long weekend, the testing will be lower, so we won't be adding active cases as readily as during the week when there are lots of cases being reported."

"We have to take a decrease [in active cases] on a holiday weekend with a grain of salt," Dillaha said. "It's hard to put much stock into any results that are reported this weekend because we know that they. could be low due to the holiday, not necessarily due to the transmission of the virus."

The state Health Department also released its bi-weekly schools report, which details active cases in public and private school districts as well as colleges and universities. The report is usually released Mondays and Thursdays.

Yesterday's report showed Cabot School District leading public schools with 173 active cases, followed by Fort Smith School District with 140. Jonesboro and Springdale school districts tied for third with 97 active cases.

There are 203 school districts listed with five or more active cases. The total number of active cases in those districts is 4,669.

Schools with fewer than five cases are not individually identified for patient confidentiality.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, has 247 active cases, according to Health Department data. Thirty colleges and universities have five or more active cases, totaling 705 active cases on those campuses.

CORRECTION: Dr. Jennifer Dillaha is the chief medical officer and medical director for immunizations and outbreak response at the Arkansas Department of Health. A previous version of this story misstated her title.

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