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COVID cases still on the rise, vaccines available locally

by Caitlan Butler | July 18, 2021 at 8:30 p.m.

COVID-19 cases continued to rise locally and throughout the state last week, and, while rare, even some who have been fully vaccinated are getting sick.

From Friday, July 9, to Friday, July 16, 32 new COVID cases were reported in Union County, more than double than were reported in the previous seven-day period. By Wednesday, active cases in the county had risen to their highest level since March 16, and on Friday, they hit a high of 36.

Statewide, in the seven-day period between July 9 and July 16, 7,120 new cases were reported, up 2,237 from the previous seven-day period. The deaths of 44 Arkansans that were a result of COVID were also reported.

Testing, however, picked up locally, with 475 test results reported in the week-long period, up 144 from the previous week. The county’s seven-day positivity rate was 6.7%.

For Arkansas, the seven-day positivity rate was 14.4%.

As of Friday, four patients were being treated for COVID-19 at the Medical Center of South Arkansas, said Alexandria Bennett, MCSA director of business development.

Winter task force

Governor Asa Hutchinson called his COVID-19 Winter Task Force, which was established last November, together last week.

Scott Street, MCSA’s CEO, sits on the task force; Bennett said the primary goal of the meeting was to evaluate the current COVID situation in Arkansas and reestablish the task force’s committees.

“The primary focus of the conversations revolved around COVID-19 vaccinations and what could be done to increase Arkansas’s vaccination rates,” Bennett said in an email.

In Union County, the percentage of local residents who were fully immunized against COVID was 26.8% on Friday. An additional 5.4% were considered partially immunized on Friday.

Bennett said the Arkansas Department of Health has reinstituted its COVIDComm hospital transfer system to coordinate transfers of COVID-19 patients to hospitals across the state as COVID-related hospitalizations rise. On Friday, 681 Arkansans were hospitalized due to the virus.

On Saturday, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson, who also sits on the task force, said the UAMS hospital was full. Bennett said MCSA is still able to serve those who need health care, but she recommended that local residents do what they can to protect themselves from COVID.

“We continue to be prepared to serve out community during these difficult times and encourage everyone to get vaccinated and take precautions to protect themselves and their families by wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene,” she said.

Delta variant and breakthrough cases

The number of Delta variant cases identified in Arkansas grew to 225 out of 1,218 virus specimens sequenced in the state as of July 12, growing from representing only 7.2% of the specimens sequenced to 18.5% in a week-long period.

According to the ADH, as of July 12, between five and 20 variant cases had been identified in Union County.

Variant cases are related to an increase in “breakthrough cases,” where those who have been vaccinated against the virus still contract symptomatic cases of COVID-19.

“From the very beginning, vaccines have been less than 100% effective in preventing symptomatic illness,” said Danyelle McNeill, an ADH spokesperson. “For the original variants, the breakthrough rate was about 5%, meaning that five people out of every 100 people fully vaccinated might develop symptomatic illness due to COVID-19. With the variants of concern, the proportion of people who are fully vaccinated that develop symptomatic illness is even higher.”

As of Tuesday, July 13, 3.5% of the COVID-19 cases identified in Arkansas since January 25 were breakthrough cases, McNeill said. Also, 1.7% of those hospitalized for COVID since Jan. 25 were vaccinated people, and 1.5% of those who have died as a result of the virus were vaccinated.

“Estimates of breakthrough illness from other countries where the Delta variant has been dominant are between 10%-20%, meaning 10-20 people out of every 100 people who are fully vaccinated may develop symptomatic illness,” she said.

In June, McNeill said a high percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent continued virus mutation and achieve herd immunity.

“Early estimates were anywhere between 70-85% of the population, but it will likely need to be higher, because the new Delta variant is so much more transmissible than the variants that were previously circulating,” she said then.

Vaccinations available

COVID-19 vaccines are available in several locations in El Dorado, and vaccination is always free, regardless of whether one has health insurance or not. The Pfizer COVID vaccine has been approved for use in people age 12 and up, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are both approved for use in adults over 18.

In Union County, COVID vaccines are available at Melvin’s Discount Pharmacy, Walmart and the Union County Local Health Unit. To set a vaccination appointment at Melvin’s, call 870-863-4155; for Walmart, visit walmart.com/COVID; and for the Local Health Unit, call 1-800-985-6030.

The UAMS Mobile Vaccine Unit will also be hosting a vaccine clinic this week at the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado at 1201 N. West Ave. On Saturday, July 24, from noon to 2 p.m., the clinic will be open to those 12 and older.

“We must all work together to get vaccinated in the fight against COVID-19,” Gov. Hutchinson said Friday.

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