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Few cases reported as winter weather slows testing

by Caitlan Butler | February 20, 2021 at 6:00 p.m.

No new local COVID-19 cases were reported Saturday by the Arkansas Department of Health.

A cumulative total of 3,612 COVID-19 cases have been identified in Union County; 2,793 have been confirmed cases, determined by positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, and 819 have been probable cases, determined by positive antigen (rapid) tests.

The ADH reported 27 new COVID-19 cases in Union County between Sunday and Saturday this week. Active cases fell to their lowest level in months throughout the week and were down to 69 Saturday, representing only 1.9% of all the cases that have been identified in the county.

Nearly 100 local residents reached the criteria for being considered recovered from the virus between Sunday and Saturday this week. The total number of Union County residents considered recovered grew to 3,443 Saturday, representing 97 people, seven new Saturday, reaching recovery from the virus this week.

The county did reach one milestone this week with the deaths of two local residents that resulted from COVID-19; 100 Union County residents have now died as a result of the virus. About 2.8% of the people who had contracted the virus locally by Saturday have died as a result of COVID.

On Saturday, there were 109 people hospitalized due to the virus in the Southwest hospital region of the state, where Union County sits, including 47 in intensive care units and 17 on ventilator support.

The ADH reported 52 new negative test results returned from Union County Saturday, more than were reported Monday through Friday combined. Between Monday and Friday, 69 total test results returned from the county, 51 being negatives. So far this month, 2,187 COVID test results have been reported for Union County, and those returned between Monday and Saturday make up 5.7% of those.

In all, 29,187 COVID-19 test results have returned from Union County, including 25,575 negatives, indicating an overall local positivity rate of 12.4%.

The extreme winter weather seen throughout the state this week slowed testing significantly, and few new cases were reported locally and in Arkansas as a whole.

Locally, the Union County Health Unit was closed for much of the week, and the Medical Center of South Arkansas suspended drive-through COVID testing.

Arkansas added 517 new COVID-19 cases Saturday to its cumulative total, which reached 315,230. The cases in the state included 249,492 confirmed cases, up 316 from Friday, and 65,738 probable cases, up 201 from Friday.

Active cases fell by 400 Saturday to reach 6,078; they represented 1.9% of all the cases identified in the state and included 4,165 confirmed cases and 1,913 probable cases. There were 303,777 Arkansans considered recovered from the virus Saturday, up 905 from Friday.

The deaths of 12 Arkansans that resulted from COVID-19 were reported Saturday, bringing the state’s death toll to 5,348, indicating a state COVID mortality rate of 1.7%. There were 605 Arkansans hospitalized due to the virus Saturday, including 223 in ICUs and 103 on ventilator support.

Between Monday and Saturday, 18,123 COVID-19 test results returned to the ADH, including 3,663 that returned Saturday. So far this month, 195,171 COVID-19 test results have returned to the ADH. Since the state began testing for the virus, 3,027,054 results have returned to the ADH, including 2,700,382 negatives, indicating an overall positivity rate for the state of 10.4%.

The ADH recommended this week that anyone whose appointment for their second dose of a COVID vaccine was postponed or cancelled reschedule the appointment for the upcoming week. According to the department, second doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be administered up to six weeks after the first dose.

Vaccination efforts did continue, however, and the ADH reported 27,557 doses were administered between Monday and Saturday. In total, approximately 505,605 doses have been administered in the state, while 752,525 doses have been allocated to Arkansas.

According to Arkansas COVID, a University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media program that has been tracking COVID-19 data in the state, 10.07% of Union County’s population had received a first vaccine dose as of Feb. 18, and 3.3% had received a second dose.

As the weather improves, cases could rise more in the next week, reversing a several weeks-long trend of fewer cases reported week-to-week. Danyelle McNeill, an ADH spokesperson, said the department hopes the winter weather seen throughout the state this week could lead to lower numbers of COVID cases, but recognized that circumstances caused by the weather could have caused the virus to spread.

“It’s difficult to predict how cases will increase or decrease next week,” she said in an email Friday. “It’s also difficult to predict how much of an impact being snowed in will have on case numbers. People may have stayed in more because of the weather, but spread is also possible in shelters or other places where people had to be together.”

She said testing will likely also increase this week, which could show an increase in cases.

“We have seen a decrease of new and active cases and hospitalizations for the past several weeks. This week case numbers are also lower because it’s far more difficult to get out for testing given the weather conditions,” she said. “As testing will likely increase, it is possible that we will see more cases than we had this week.”

Nationally, Johns Hopkins University reported 28,057,264 COVID-19 cases at 3:15 p.m. Saturday. Data wasn’t available then on the number of U.S. residents considered recovered from the virus or the number of active cases in the country. The country neared 500,000 COVID-related deaths, with 497,058 having been reported nationwide by Saturday afternoon, indicating a national COVID mortality rate of 1.8%.

Johns Hopkins reported 110,941,712 COVID-19 cases worldwide Saturday afternoon. There were 62,540,458 people considered recovered from the virus then, leaving 45,944,331 cases -- 41.4% -- active around the world. There had been 2,456,923 deaths attributable to the virus reported by Saturday afternoon, indicating a global COVID mortality rate of 2.2%.

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