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Active COVID cases in Arkansas at highest level in nearly two months

Arkansas Department of Health
Arkansas Department of Health Director Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said in an interview Thursday that she expects cases of COVID-19 will continue rising because of an easily transmissible subvariant and people taking fewer precautions.

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, Arkansas is experiencing its highest number of active COVID-19 cases in nearly two months. But relatively few people are seeking treatment at hospitals, officials say.

The Department of Health on Thursday reported 373 additional known cases of people with COVID-19. As new infections are outpacing recoveries, the number of active cases rose by 91 to 3,627.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the department’s director, tells KUAR News she expects that number will continue growing.

“We are just for the foreseeable future going to be dealing with this increased transmission likely due to this subvariant that’s more transmissible. And of course, people are so tired of the pandemic. They don’t want to social distance anymore, they don’t want to wear masks, and I can’t hardly blame them,” Dillaha said.

The department reported seven additional deaths on Thursday, though two were from late last year and only now categorized as being the result of COVID-19.

Dillaha says the latest infections are mostly the result of the recent omicron strain BA.2.12.1.

“It is now thought to be dominant and it’s more transmissible, so the higher proportion this subvariant becomes in our population, the more cases I think we’re going to see,” she said. “Even if we didn’t have this more transmissible variant, we might still have an increase in transmission because people are changing their behavior and being less cautious.”

With many people taking at-home COVID-19 tests, Dillaha says it’s likely there are many more positive cases than the department knows about.

“What we receive in terms of case reports is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Dillaha said. “We’re fortunate in that a large proportion of the cases are mild and do not end up in the hospital. But we are seeing an increase in the number of people in the hospital and that has to do, I think, with the fact that we have many more active cases.”

The number of hospitalizations on Thursday grew by five, with 70 people being treated statewide.

With Memorial Day considered the unofficial start of summer, Dillaha expects people will continue spreading the virus during holiday gatherings and other events that bring families and friends together.

“We have a lot of activities going on. A lot of graduations where people are sitting close without masks, people are traveling, having family events, weddings and so forth, so I think that we will continue to see an increase.”

Dillaha advises people to stock up on at-home tests. If they think they might have been exposed to someone with the virus or feel symptomatic, she encourages people to then take a test. Dillaha also encourages anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated, including booster shots, to take advantage of this slow time when shots are readily available.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
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