COVID cases trending down, officials concerned new variants could cause spike

COVID cases trending down, officials concerned new variants could cause spike

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - In recent days COVID-19 cases have been trending downward, thanks to several reasons.

Dean of NYITCOM Dr. Shane Speights said the number of new daily cases in Craighead County has been cut in half in the last 10 to 12 days.

Region 8 isn’t the only area seeing a decline in case numbers.

“Across the country, we’re seeing dramatic decline and even across the globe we’re seeing a decline in the number of cases, so this is exciting news,” said Speights.

Speights said the cause for the decline isn’t due to just one thing.

Following CDC guidelines of mask-wearing and social distancing has had a positive impact.

Vaccinations are also helping, but Speights said there haven’t been enough people vaccinated to see this kind of impact this soon.

“To be honest with you, there’s more people that’s been infected by the virus, especially in the last 30 to 40 days,” said Speights.

Speights said back in December, there was a large spike in cases locally and nationally, which means more people who have been infected and, in turn, have the antibodies for the virus.

Here in Arkansas, there have been about 300,000 reported cases of COVID-19, but the actual number of cases is higher.

Speights said there is a large number of people who had the virus that was asymptomatic, or had mild symptoms and didn’t go to the doctor to get tested.

“We think the number is about eight times the number that we’re seeing now,” said Speights.

That means 2.4 million people in the state could have had the virus based on that guesstimate.

“Not to say that’s exact, but we’re trying to think of everything,” said Speights. “Right now, no one knows exactly why the cases are dropping so steadily. The caveat to that is what we’re seeing again that’s now cropping up with these new variants.”

Speights said officials are hopeful cases will continue to go down, but worry cases will go back up due to the new COVID variants.

“Whenever you have a high number of cases that increases the likelihood that you will see variants,” said Speights. “The thing that really keeps variants down and keeps them from happening is vaccination or people that are immunized.”

Speights said as of now, it looks as if the available vaccines protect against the UK variant of the virus because it is very similar to the current version of COVID-19.

A South African variant and a Brazilian variant of the virus have also been discovered.

“Of the ones that we’re watching the most closely and the one that worries us the most is the Brazilian variant,” said Speights.

Speights said based on a preliminary study from Brazil, it does not appear that the current vaccines or having had the original strain of COVID protects you from the Brazilian variant.

“We’re kind of racing against the clock so to speak, to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can so that as these variants pop up they [the vaccines] can offer some protection against most of the variants,” said Speights.

While it’s not been proven, Dr. Speights said there is a discussion that herd immunity is playing a role in the current decline in cases.

“It’s about people that can’t get infected. That have either had the vaccine and have antibodies that have been generated by that mechanism or have had the virus and the infection itself,” said Speights. “And the idea behind it is that people that can’t get the infection, basically the herd, are protecting the people who are susceptible to the infection.”

While active case numbers have been dropping, the death rate has remained relatively steady.

Dr. Speights said the death rate will go down shortly after hospitalizations start to drop.

“As cases go down, the number of hospitalizations go down, and then we see the number of deaths go down. So we’re hopeful we’ll start to see those numbers go down here in the coming weeks.”

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