ADH says delta variant spreading in Arkansas. Sebastian County COVID-19 cases surpass 200.

Abbi Ross
Fort Smith Times Record
Sebastian, Crawford and Baxter counties have all had cases of the delta variant identified but it is not possible to give an accurate number on how many because the Arkansas Department of Health is not sequencing every positive test they receive.

The delta variant of COVID-19 is making its presence known in Arkansas and the River Valley is no exception to that.

Sebastian, Crawford and Baxter counties have all had cases of the delta variant identified there, said Danyelle McNeill, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Health.

While delta variant cases have been identified, it is not possible to give an accurate number on how many because the Arkansas Department of Health is not sequencing every positive test they receive, McNeill said.

"Also, because it takes time to receive the sequence of a test specimen to determine if it is a variant of concern, it’s not possible to give an exact number of variant cases in a county in real-time."

There were 232 active cases reported for Sebastian County Thursday, an increase of two in a day and 114 in a week, according to the ADH.

What is the delta variant?:What you need to know about the delta variant

Active COVID-19 cases are above 100 in Sebastian County for the first time since late March. The number of active cases in Sebastian County peaked on Jan. 12 at 1,555, according to Arkansas Covid.  

The delta variant is highly contagious and is contributing to the rise in cases, said Stephanie Whitaker, chief nursing executive for Baptist Health Fort Smith and Van Buren. 

Statistics show 60% of in-state cases are tied to the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19, Whitaker said.

The delta variant could be up to 50% more contagious, according to the U.K.'s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

"The delta variant is likely circulating in all counties of Arkansas at this point in time even though we haven’t yet been able to verify it by a positive sample sequence, so community leaders should assume that the delta variant is likely circulating in their communities," McNeill said.

Active case numbers in the state have been on a relatively steady increase since the beginning of June.

The ADH announced 9,079 active cases statewide Thursday, up 3,147 from July 8. 

“The speed at which we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations across the state due to COVID-19 is concerning,” Whitaker said. “While we are not seeing as many cases as we did last year, we are seeing a steady rise in COVID-19 patients compared to early 2021.” 

There were four new deaths added to the death toll Thursday, bringing the total to 5,981. There have been 37 deaths added to the toll since July 8.

Around 57% of COVID-19 patients in Baptist Health hospitals across the state are age 60 or younger, Whitaker said. 

“Of all of our critically ill COVID positive patients at Baptist Health facilities, none have been fully vaccinated,” Whitaker said. 

Those who are fully vaccinated are still at risk of the delta variant, but at a lower risk, according to a Johns Hopkins question-and-answer session with epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, DrPH, SM, from the Center for Health Security.

Fully vaccinated individuals can be infected with the delta variant and even the original strain, said Dr. Kevin Davis, infectious disease specialist for Mercy Fort Smith.  

“There have been several studies trying to answer the question of the rate of breakthrough infections with the delta variant,” Davis said. “The rates of protection against mild disease from the delta variant in the studies ranged anywhere from high 70's to low 90's percentage. The rate of protection against mild disease is probably 85-90%. The rate of protection against severe and critical COVID-19 is much higher."

If vaccinated person is infected with the delta variant, there is a high likelihood they will be protected again severe and critical disease, Davis said.

"We continue to support vaccination as the best way to reduce your risk of serious complications from the virus," Whitaker said. "We continue to urge our staff, their families, and the general public to take the vaccine as an important step to provide additional protection from the serious consequences of COVID-19, both for themselves and for others. We feel the best defense against COVID is getting the vaccine."

Whitaker said that the numbers can change quickly, but as of Thursday afternoon, there were 20 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Baptist Health-Fort Smith. 

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 12 COVID-19 patients in the ICU and 11 others hospitalized at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, Davis said.

Mercy Fort Smith is seeing a rapid increase in hospitalized and critically ill COVID-19 patients, Davis said.

COVID-19 cases in Arkansas:More than 1,300 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Arkansas

How we got here  

The delta variant of COVID-19 has started to take hold in Arkansas recently in a summer that had the promises of almost being "normal."

The Arkansas government’s dance with COVID has been tentative from the start. Arkansas was one of only seven states that did not issue a stay-at-home order for nonessential activities in March and April 2020 in response to the pandemic. The other states include Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. 

A state of emergency in Arkansas was declared on March 11, 2020. Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a state mask mandate effective July 20, 2020. Hutchinson lifted the mask mandate March 31 and made it unenforceable in late April to take effect in July.

Vaccination rates in Sebastian, Crawford, Logan and Franklin County

Source: The Arkansas Department of Health as of July 15

Vaccinations for Sebastian County 

Total Number of Doses: 58,742 

Percent of Population Partially Immunized: 7.0%  

Percent of Population Fully Immunized: 25.5%

Vaccinations for Crawford County 

Total Number of Doses: 32,394 

Percent of Population Partially Immunized: 6.0%  

Percent of Population Fully Immunized: 28.9% 

Vaccinations for Logan County 

Total Number of Doses: 12,805 

Percent of Population Partially Immunized: 4.6%  

Percent of Population Fully Immunized: 33.3% 

Vaccinations for Franklin County 

Total Number of Doses: 11,402 

Percent of Population Partially Immunized: 3.9%  

Percent of Population Fully Immunized: 37.0%