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Why researchers think Arkansas could see a summer surge in coronavirus cases

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | May 20, 2021 at 12:02 p.m.
Registered nurses Amanda Velasquez (left) and Ursula Dixon take swabs from a couple in April at a drive-up coronavirus testing site at Arkansas Surgical Hospital in North Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

Arkansas saw its largest increase in coronavirus cases in almost a month earlier this week as a report from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences warned of the potential for a surge of infections this summer.

What are the case numbers like right now?

The state added 313 new cases on Tuesday, the first one-day jump that topped 300 since April 21. On Wednesday, 244 cases were added.

New cases also outpaced recoveries on Tuesday and Wednesday, as active cases rose on both days, up to Wednesday's reported count of 1,999.

Between May 10 and Monday, the state reported 187 new cases among students at public elementary and secondary schools.

How do case numbers this week compare to earlier in the pandemic?

The number of new infections identified each day, while still well below the level it reached in early January, has trended slightly upward since early April, after the removal of the statewide mask mandate.

The number of active cases reported Wednesday, 1,999, is similar to the beginning of the month, when it hovered around 2,000, but higher than a month ago, in mid-to-late April, when the figure was around 1,800 to 1,900.

Why do UAMS researchers think cases could surge again this summer?

Warmer weather and the approach of summer means people will likely spend more time together. The UK variant, which is believed to spread more easily and be more lethal, is also increasingly present in the state, as are some other variants.

The report predicts that the cumulative number of cases in the state will increase by more than 25,000 by July 15, with the total number of deaths rising by 50.

What about vaccines?

Vaccinations could help prevent new cases, but the average number of doses being administered daily has fallen in recent weeks.

The average number of doses administered per day over a rolling seven-day period peaked at more than 23,000 in early April but was only 8,666 as of Wednesday.

According to the CDC, about 37.7% of Arkansans have received one dose and 29.4% are fully vaccinated.

Among the states and District of Columbia, Arkansas continued to rank 44th in the percentage of residents who had received at least one vaccine dose. Arkansas is No. 49 in the percentage of those who have been fully vaccinated, ahead of only Alabama and Mississippi.

Read more about the UAMS report here and more about the most recent case numbers here, both from reporter Andy Davis.

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