LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – New projections by Arkansas researchers say surging COVID-19 cases in the state, fueled by the delta variant, is “a raging forest fire that will grow in size and strength.”

The projections, released Tuesday by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, outline the impact of the virus on Arkansans in the coming weeks, and notes that the pandemic situation in the state has “radically changed in the last two weeks.”

Among the findings listed, researchers found COVID-19 test positivity rate in Arkansas is now at 20 percent, five times the national average, which suggests rapid community spread.

Modeling by UAMS predicts that daily case numbers will increase at an increasing rate, with the 15-day averaged projected to reach 1.039 cases per day and the 30-day average to increase to 1,236 cases per day.

While this would not be the first surge of cases Arkansas has experienced during the pandemic, researchers say the new cases will affect younger patients more heavily than before.

The 15-day models have cases among Arkansans aged 35-59 growing by 372 cases daily. With even younger people, children 17 and under, the expected daily increase in cases is 169.

Overall, the projection for serious cases of the virus is grim. UAMS researchers say 15-day models show a daily increase in hospitalizations from COVID-19 to reach 37, a number that grows to 48 in 30-day models.

The same increase in impact for younger Arkansans seen in overall cases is also seen in hospitalizations, with 15-day modeling forecasting cases of hospitalizations from the virus in people 35-59 outpacing cases in those aged 60-74 in the very near future.

Researchers cite the spiking cases from the delta variant as a major driver in the change in their projections, noting how the variant has higher transmission rates and how it seems to have greater effects on younger patients compared to earlier strains of the virus.

The report also notes the low vaccination rates in Arkansas, adding that even if those numbers now spike, the effects would be delayed due to the time needed for full immunization to take hold, which could be as long as six weeks from the time of the first dose.

With the delay in effect that a possible vaccination surge could have, the researchers advocate continued use to social distancing and other preventative measures like mask-wearing.

However, they also many in the state have a “strong feeling in the state that the pandemic is over,” which may cause this advice to not be considered. This, the researchers warned, could have devastating long-term effects in Arkansas.

As we said in our June report, “COVID-19 is not over in Arkansas. It is, at best, smoldering.” Well, COVID is no longer smoldering. It has broken out into a raging forest fire that will grow in size and strength. We cannot stand still. We must act to reduce the consequences of this new surge to the extent possible.

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