COVID-19 cases have been spiking locally and throughout the state, with more than 50 cases reported in the last week, compared to 33 the week before and 23 the week before that.
Between Tuesday, June 14, and Monday, 54 new COVID-19 cases were identified in Union County. Statewide, 4,268 cases were identified in the same period, up from 3,611 the week before and 2,757 the week before that.
Last week's spike in cases represents an approximately 54% increase in cases identified locally and an 11% increase in new cases statewide.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Omicron variant of the COVID virus is the predominate strain spreading in Arkansas. The CDC reports that the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, but largely causes less severe disease than earlier virus variants.
COVID deaths have stayed flat in Union County throughout the period of the spike in cases. Thirteen deaths resulting from COVID-19 were reported statewide.
Katie White, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), said more research is needed to determine exactly why there have been fewer deaths resulting from COVID recently, but offered some possible reasons.
"(It) appears to be a combination of better treatments (and) treatment protocols, some level of immunity (from vaccine or prior infection) in the community, and these strains may be relatively mild," she said in an email.
Several drugs are available to treat COVID-19, White said, including Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, antiviral pills, and Bebtolivimab and Evusheld, monoclonal antibodies.
"There is plenty in stock at various hospitals and pharmacies... and we get allocations for the state on a scheduled basis," White said.
Just over half of the active COVID-19 cases in the state are in people who aren't vaccinated against the virus, according to ADH data. Vaccines are widely available, including locally at Walmart, the Union County Local Health Unit, Melvin's Discount Pharmacy, the Medical Center of South Arkansas, SAMA, Walgreens, the Strong Clinic and other health care providers, according to the ADH.
A full list of clinics offering vaccines is available at healthy.arkansas.gov. COVID-19 vaccines are free, and one doesn't need health insurance to get one.
In the pediatric population, three-quarters of new cases are in unvaccinated individuals.
COVID-19 vaccines for children 6 months to 5 years old were approved over the weekend and shots began to be given on Monday. The first vaccines for that age group were set to arrive in Arkansas between Monday and Wednesday, said Dr. Joel Tumlison, ADH medical director for immunizations.
"Talk to your child's doctor. I think there's a lot of value in speaking to the provider that's taking care of your baby, your young child," he said. "Small children can get sick with COVID. Thankfully, they don't get seriously sick as often as other age groups, but that does happen... There have been children in this age group that have been hospitalized during the pandemic... We don't want any kid to get sick, especially if its bad enough to go to the hospital."
Tumlinson recommended calling one's child's pediatrician to find out when and where COVID vaccines will be available locally for young children.
White said ADH recommendations for Arkansans remain the same as they have been for the past year, since vaccines for the virus first became available: "Get vaccinated and take other precautions as needed."