If its modeling is accurate, more Arkansans will die from COVID-19 in the last two weeks of 2020 than did in the first four months of the pandemic, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health reports.

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Observing the surge in infections, the college also says Arkansas leaders’ safety recommendations “must be backed up with appropriate mandates,” including limiting “the number of people allowed to gather in a single place, especially indoor dining and bars.” Governor Hutchinson has so far been reluctant to put further curbs on indoor dining (now at 2/3 capacity).

Without mandated safety measures (that is, enforced), the report observes, “it seems some Arkansans are not consistently using lifesaving public health practices.”

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While we have seen fluctuations in the forecasts and projections in the past weeks, the takeaway message from each of the College of Public Health COVID-19 Forecasts has remained the same. Our early reports may have seemed speculative, especially to those disinclined to believe the seriousness of what the state was facing or who did not understand infectious disease modeling, but they have proved to be extremely accurate in the long-term. Consequently, we can only reiterate our conclusions.

 

The models strongly indicate Arkansas is entering a difficult time. In the next two weeks, we should expect to see the equivalent of 20% of Arkansas’ entire COVID-19 caseload until now. As a consequence of more rapid viral spread, the state’s health care system will be challenged dealing with the consequences of these numbers — from treating people who will require intensive medical care to mobilizing the public to continue to practice mitigation behaviors. And, until the vaccines are distributed, there is no indication the trends we are now seeing are likely to change.

The forecast for deaths by Dec. 28 of 3,106 has already been exceeded: On Dec. 21, it stood at 3,295. That is because short-term forecasting assumes consistent rates of infection, rather than the surge the state is experiencing.

The mid-term forecast predicts more than 50,000 Arkansans will be infected by Feb. 15. A peak of 27,000 active infections (22,158 yesterday) is now forecast for April “in the absence of widespread vaccine distribution.”

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Noting that 31 percent of persons hospitalized for COVID-19 will require intensive care, the report says a total of 3,375 Arkansans will have been treated in ICUs by Dec. 28.

The report also includes results from the Arkansas Pandemic poll finding that having a job correlates with good mental and physical health.