hurricane
The current lull in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations might not last.

High hopes about vaccine rollout and declining COVID-19 infections in Arkansas must be tempered with some bleak news. The more infectious U.K. variant of the virus is likely here, and it’s expected to spread quickly.

That was the message from Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health Dean Mark Williams during this week’s video update.

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The state has seen a dramatic downward trend in infection and hospitalization rates since Jan. 17, he said. But the arrival in Arkansas of a more contagious variant of the virus threatens to reverse the trend.

“I’m afraid the declines we’ve seen recently may not continue,” Williams said.

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Modeling from experts at the University for Arkansas for Medical Sciences indicates 89,000 more Arkansans will be infected with COVID-19 between now and the end of March, Williams said Tuesday. Daily diagnosis of new cases is averaging around 1,500, which will mean more than 385,000 Arkansans will have caught COVID-19 by the end of March.

“We should not be lulled into a false sense of security,” Williams warned.

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He suggested Arkansans can think about the pandemic like a hurricane, with three distinct stages. The storm started building from March through August of 2020. The second stage hit in November, when COVID-19 hit the state with full force. Now we’re in the eye of the hurricane. The number of new infections and hospitalizations are declining. And with vaccines available, albeit to only limited groups, people are breathing a sigh of relief. They shouldn’t, Williams said. In most counties in Arkansas, less than 1 percent of the population is vaccinated. And the benefits of vaccine rollout will take months to realize. Arkansas is still vulnerable.

“Like the eye of the hurricane, the lull will eventually pass and the full force of the storm will return,” Williams said. “We know it is coming, and it may even be stronger.”