Concern Over Potential Surge Grows as COVID Cases Top 1,000

Children and adolescents account for one third of new cases in Arkansas.

Health worker in gloves giving covid test to black woman at car

Arkansas could be bracing for another surge of COVID-19 as new cases surpassed 1,000 for the first time since September. The higher number could be a result of people waiting until after the Thanksgiving holiday to be tested, but Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said he expects to see more cases in the coming days and the state needs to be prepared for that. 

“If this continues, we are definitely in another surge,” Romero said during a press conference today. “Whether we will reach that peak that we did on the summer surge is unknown yet.”

Hospitalizations are up nearly 20 percent from this time last week and of the 1,044 new cases reported by the Arkansas Department of Health today, roughly 30 percent occurred in Arkansans 5 to 18 years old. 

“It’s important that parents realize that this virus does affect children, it can have long-term consequences and that vaccines are available and we’re encouraging them to get their children vaccinated,” Romero said.

Nearly 13,000 doses of the vaccine were administered in the last 24 hours and approximately 36 percent were first doses. Almost 51 percent of Arkansans age 5 and older are fully vaccinated.

Last Friday, the World Health Organization classified the new omicron variant of COVID-19 as a “variant of concern.” First reported to WHO from South Africa, the variant has a large number of mutations and preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection. Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke to the White House today about the new variant and said there’s not enough information to make any definitive decisions.

“In the meantime, it is important that we stick with our strategy in Arkansas, which is let’s get as many vaccinated as we can, that is the best protection,” he said.

Health officials are surveilling for the omicron variant, but it has not yet been identified in Arkansas. The variant has not been confirmed in the United States, but there have been cases in nearly 20 countries, according to CNN

Dr. Romero is urging Arkansans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as well as the flu. Because there were so few flu cases last year, Romero said they’re expecting a heavy flu season, which could burden the state’s healthcare system, especially if the state experiences another surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Elderly adults, those individuals tend to go into the hospital during the winter, that will add a burden to this,” Romero said. “And if I can be even more pessimistic, if we happen to have omicron, that will certainly push us over the edge.”

Information about vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu are available on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.