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Local & Regional News

Latest UAMS forecast: lull in COVID cases followed by another wave

UAMS College of Public Health
David Monteith
/
KUAR News
The latest forecast from the UAMS predicts a month of relatively few COVID-19 cases, followed by a new surge triggered by the deltacron variant.

Another surge in COVID-19 cases is expected in Arkansas, but the latest forecast from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences says that’s not likely for at least another month.

Shortly after the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Arkansas in 2020, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences began using data to predict how the virus would spread in the state. Dr. Mark Williams, dean of the UAMS College of Public Health, said Germany and the United Kingdom have become reasonably good predictors of surges in the U.S.

“The U.K. tends to be about three weeks ahead of the United States. It's more like six weeks ahead of Arkansas,” Williams said. “I would expect for Arkansas to begin to see a surge with the deltacron, or BA.2 variant, within six weeks.”

Each month, UAMS publishes a report on the expected number of cases in the state. The numbers are based on computer-driven models, then a group of UAMS researchers adjusts the numbers based on factors unique to Arkansas, like the fact that it’s a largely rural state with no international travel hubs. These factors can limit and slow the spread of the airborne virus.

Deltacron is as contagious as the measles, which Williams says makes it nearly impossible to stop without additional public health measures like vaccinations and mask-wearing. He also said those who have already contracted COVID-19 are still vulnerable to the deltacron variant, which could fuel another surge in the state.

“Natural immunity wanes very quickly, so we have a sizable proportion of the state who are once again susceptible to infection,” he said.

The UAMS report released Tuesday notes that immunity from vaccinations also wanes but is more predictable. And vaccinations have consistently proven to reduce the threat of severe disease. According to the latest forecast, Arkansas case counts are expected to remain steady at about 600 new cases and an average of 22 deaths per day over the next month.

The report says, “Arkansans do not need to be at red alert all the time, but we must be prepared to go back on alert.”

Being on alert means, if case counts begin to rise, that hospitals should prepare for an influx of patients, schools should be ready to pivot to virtual learning, and the public should be more diligent about wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.