Researchers cite lack of social distancing regulations in Arkansas for spike in COVID-19 cases

The new UAMS research is projecting that “if nothing changes” Arkansas could see up to 150,000 active cases by October 30.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — According to a prediction model and data report put out by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the “relaxing of social distancing regulations,” is not only the reason for the recent record-breaking coronavirus case numbers, but if nothing changes it could be the reason Arkansas sees a total of 35,000 cases by July 10.

More conservatively, a short term model predicts 30,000 total cases and 375 deaths by July 12. However, the authors of the research make sure to add that even this guess is “nonetheless disturbing.”

Last month, UAMS made public a previous model that showed coronavirus death numbers in the state hitting double-digit numbers over several days in October— before the recent record jump in numbers were even reported.

That model predicted Arkansas would end June with 16,000 total cases. 

On June 30, that number was 20,777.

RELATED: UAMS study predicts Arkansas COVID-19 death increase if social distancing guidelines ignored

Obviously, something in the real world changed in the last three weeks of June to greatly enhance the rate at which infections were spreading. And, as a result, we under forecast the number of cumulative cases [in the June 16 predictions],” the report states.

There were a couple of points UAMS researchers involved in the models made clear.

The models are estimated based on past data (number of confirmed cases, number of ventilators in use, ICU bed capacity, etc.), and the predictions are based on if the state continued in the manner of which they were handling the virus within the studied timeframe.

“What the model is saying instead is, ‘all things considered, or if conditions at this time do not change, this is what could happen,‘” said Dr. Mark Williams, Ph.D., and the dean of the UAMS College of Public Health.

After the July 2 report from Governor Asa Hutchinson announcing 878 new COVID-19 cases—a record-breaking number in a daily COVID-19 case increase—it was clear that the state of affairs had changed, considering UAMS had guessed we’d be at roughly 17,000 by then, while real numbers reached just over 22,000.

The research points to widespread backtracking of social distancing measures, such as restaurants reopening dining rooms, etc., as what needs to change.

The new UAMS forecasts is projecting that “if nothing changes” Arkansas could see up to 150,000 active cases by October 30.

The model also forecasts 2,794 hospitalizations, 838 ICU cases, and 586 ventilations.

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In the first week of Phase Two in Arkansas, which included allowing nursing home visitations with restrictions, there were 3,000 new cases.

“Following the loosening of social distancing measures, we see a large increase in confirmed cases that deviates significantly from trend,” the UAMS report stated.

However, the long term predictions from both reports aren’t much different, besides lowering the peak number of active cases by 20 percent. 

The bright side of the new model is the number of ICU beds at peak fall below the number that the state has on reserve, meaning that if history follows the predictions, Arkansas won’t run out of room in hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.