Heading into Memorial Day weekend, Arkansas is recording its highest number of active COVID-19 cases in nearly two months. But relatively few people are seeking treatment in hospitals, officials say.
The Department of Health reported 373 other known cases of people with COVID-19 on Thursday. As new infections outpaced recoveries, the number of active cases rose by 91 to 3,627.
dr Jennifer Dillaha, the department’s director, told KUAR News she expects that number to continue to rise.
“We will be looking at this increased transmission for the foreseeable future, likely due to this subvariant being more easily transmissible. And of course, people are so fed up with the pandemic. They don’t want social distancing anymore, they don’t want to wear masks and I can hardly blame them.”
The department reported seven more deaths on Thursday, although two were from late last year and have only now been classified as resulting from COVID-19.
According to Dillaha, recent infections are mainly due to the recently emerged Omicron strain BA.2.12.1.
“It is now believed to be dominant and more transmissible. As the proportion of this subvariant increases in our population, I think we will see more cases,” she said. “Even if we didn’t have this more easily transmissible variant, we could still have an increase in transmission because people change their behavior and are less careful.”
With many people doing COVID-19 testing at home, Dillaha said it’s likely there are many more positive cases than the department is aware of.
“The case reports we’re getting are really just the tip of the iceberg,” Dillaha said. “We are fortunate that a large proportion of cases are mild and do not end up in the hospital. But we’re seeing an increase in the number of people in the hospital and I think that has to do with the fact that we have a lot more active cases.”
The number of hospital admissions rose by five on Thursday, with 70 people being treated nationwide.
With Memorial Day marking the unofficial start of summer, Dillaha expects people will continue to spread the virus during holiday gatherings and other events that bring families and friends together.
“We have many activities going on. A lot of graduations where people without masks are sitting close together, people are traveling, having family gatherings, weddings and so on, so I think we’re going to continue to see an increase.”
Dillaha advises people to stock up on home testing. If they think they have been exposed to someone with the virus or are feeling symptomatic, she encourages people to then get tested. Dillaha also encourages anyone who is not fully vaccinated, including booster shots, to take advantage of this slow time when vaccinations are readily available.