The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in Arkansas could reach 20,000 by late September, according to updated models published this week by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
The new numbers, from the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at UAMS, are based on simulations that assume no changes occur in public mask wearing and that schools and colleges will reopen as planned.
The models represent a major increase compared to the current numbers. For example, the state’s present record was set on July 2 when 878 new infections were reported.
“The good news is Arkansans have the ability to change these forecasts,” said UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson. “Simply wearing a mask will dramatically bend the curve.”
The models show that with even a small increase of people wearing masks, the state could see a dramatic reduction to 12,000 daily new cases by the same time. That forecast could drop to around 6,000 per day with almost complete compliance with mask wearing, the report states.
Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health
A similar pattern emerges with respect to daily deaths, which are estimated to hit about 75 per day without any changes, but could be around 12 if more people begin wearing masks in public.
The updated modeling comes after an unexpected rise in cases that outpaced the previous UAMS simulations which predicted Arkansas would reach 16,000 total cases by then end of June. In reality, the number of COVID-19 cases doubled in three weeks to over 20,000 on June 30.
The number of total cases in Arkansas reached 24,512 on July 7, and hospitalizations increased by 32 to 369. There were nine new deaths, bringing the toll to 301.
The short-term UAMS models predict cases could reach 30,000 by July 12 and deaths could be as high as 375. That forecast would represent a daily average of nearly 1,100 new cases and almost 15 deaths per day over the next five days.
Long-term modeling continues to suggest 150,000 active cases by Oct. 30, an extreme jump from the current count of about 5,500. The model also forecasts, if all things stay the same, 2,794 hospitalizations and 586 ventilations by the end of October.
Mark Williams, dean of the College of Public Health, said while the forecast is disturbing, the numbers and projections are not inevitable.
“Unlike the weather, we can do something to change the COVID-19 epidemic in Arkansas,” said Williams, who suggested people limit the time spent in places where people congregate, and practicing social distancing and mask wearing when in public places.
“If we do these things, we can protect the public health of our state,” he said.