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UAMS forecast: COVID could infect 500,000 more Arkansans through February

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was shown to reporters at the Arkansas Department of Health on Dec. 14, 2020 just before the first doses were administered in the state.
Michael Hibblen
/
KUAR News
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was shown at the Arkansas Department of Health on Dec. 14, 2020 before the state administered its first doses.

As many as 500,000 Arkansans may become infected with the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the coming weeks if trends continue, including 1,764 additional hospitalizations and 341 deaths by Feb. 8.

The projections from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health are based on data provided by the Department of Health through Jan. 9. The model forecasts 106,419 new COVID cases by Jan. 24 and 285,642 new cases by Feb. 8, which would be an increase of more than 36%. 10,000 new cases are expected per day.

176 additional deaths are projected by Jan. 24 and 341 by Feb. 8, which would equal roughly 11 new deaths per day. There would be 855 additional hospitalizations by Jan. 24, with the state reaching 85 daily hospitalizations by Feb. 8.

The forecast says cumulative COVID cases will rise from 614,652 on Jan. 8 to 900,294 on Feb. 5. Cumulative hospital cases will increase from 30,084 to 31,848. Cumulative deaths will rise from 9,011 to 9,352.

The report notes that the omicron variant is “far more infectious” than previous versions of the disease and is better able to avoid either a natural or induced immune response, resulting in more reinfections and breakthrough infections. It’s also infecting children much more often.

Risks of hospitalization and death are lower, but it is still a life-threatening disease capable of producing severe pneumonia and other illnesses. The report says at least a third of those infected will have “long lasting, sometimes debilitating symptoms.” Those include chronic fatigue, cardiopulmonary problems, and mental health issues. It cautions that the models cannot project exact numbers.

“The pandemic in Arkansas is changing so rapidly week-to-week, the pandemic is outrunning our models,” the report says. “By this we mean, actual increases are so steep on a daily basis, our projections are behind the day after the models are run.”

It advises Arkansans to get vaccinated with a booster, wear their masks, and avoid large groups of people.

The full report can be read here.