Faculty at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ College of Public Health use a forest fire in its recent modeling report to explain what the current community spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas means:

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What it means, using a forest fire as an analogy, is that the fire in Arkansas up to mid-November was smoldering. The fire was burning, but it was burning at a rate some could choose to ignore, being mostly smoke, and believing it would just go away. But, the fire was still there, gaining energy and strength. In mid-November, the fire had built up enough strength to begin jumping from dense forests in the state to those parts with fewer trees. At this point, the fire was spreading broadly, burning enough forest to pose a danger to every single person in the state. In fact, the forest fire had grown to cover the entire state and was getting close to endanger the very systems every Arkansan needs for their health and safety. Like all fires, this forest fire will continue to burn until it runs out of fuel or someone puts it out. Fortunately, the fire department, in the form of a public health distribution of vaccines, is on the way.

The report goes on to say that people can help put out the fire by taking safety precautions. It’s a message that has apparently landed on too many deaf ears in Arkansas.

The latest model, predictive of COVID-19 spread between Dec. 1-14, says new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 will increase from today’s 172,042 by almost 6,000 for a total of 180,542 in Arkansas by Monday, Dec. 14. However, the college report also includes the caveat that the prediction is “likely low,” because it does not take into account spread from Thanksgiving gatherings. Short-term modeling is based on conditions preceding the projections.

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The model also predicts more than 200 additional deaths by Dec. 14, for a total of 2,709. “If the 15-day forecast holds true, Arkansas can expect to see more deaths due to COVID-19 in [Dec. 1-14] than in the first four months of the pandemic.

All counties are reporting infections. The model predicts total hospitalizations, today at 9,445, to hit 9,765 by Dec. 14, but given the recent huge numbers of reported deaths not figured into the model, that number will also likely be low.

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Long-term forecasting predicts the pandemic will peak in late March 2021, when there will be up to 40,000 active infections. Today, active infections are 14,235. Long-term forecasting, however, has a wide range of uncertainty.

In a video accompanying the models, COPH Dean Mark Willams calls the report “unsettling”; UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson notes that there is rise in child infections. As of Dec. 4, Arkansas Children’s Hospital had five patients hospitalized with the virus. Cumulatively, the hospital has had 58 non-clinical employees and 171 clinical employees test positive for the virus.