COVID-19: The latest numbers | Steve Brawner

·3 min read
Steve Brawner
Steve Brawner

Just when we think the latest COVID-19 surge might be peaking, we get a new number like 14,494. That’s the number of new cases in Arkansas announced Wednesday. It was the highest since the pandemic started.

The number only reflects an official count. It does not include people who tested positive at home using free kits from libraries and Department of Health offices, but never told the government.

The news followed two days of much lower numbers: 3,600 cases announced Monday followed by 3,213 cases announced Tuesday. But those numbers were skewed by it being a holiday weekend, and then all those people who didn’t test those days got included in the Tuesday numbers that were announced Wednesday.

If it’s any consolation, the experiences of other places is that the omicron variant peaks fast and then falls. It happened in South Africa, where the variant was first identified, and it’s already happening in New York. That state’s seven-day average fell from 85,000 per day on Jan. 9 to 51,500 this week.

Hopefully we’ll get there soon in Arkansas.

We all know the omicron variant is generally milder than previous variants. It’s obvious we’re counting on that fact, based on what I’m seeing in public. Clearly, many Arkansans have reached the stage of saying, “I’m vaccinated (or not), I’ve lived through this for two years, this variant is not as bad, and if I get it, I get it.”

Public health professionals must take that sentiment into account as they issue their recommendations. Arkansans in January 2022 facing omicron won’t make the same sacrifices that Arkansans did in April 2020 or in January 2021.

Elected officials must also take the sentiment into account, though they should not seek to politically profit from it. There’s a difference.

Meanwhile, in Wednesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer, quoted some noteworthy numbers.

Since Dec. 1, Arkansans who were not fully vaccinated composed 62.8% of the state’s cases, 68.3% of its virus-related hospitalizations and 78.5% of the COVID-attributed deaths. The vaccinated but not boosted composed 34.2% of cases, 28.7% of hospitalizations and 20% of the COVID-attributed deaths.

Those who have been vaccinated and boosted have been 3% of the cases, 2.9% of the hospitalizations and 1.5% of the state’s deaths.

Make of that what you will. Those numbers make a strong case for getting boosted. It should be noted that Dec. 1 was a long time ago in COVID time. The delta variant was the dominant strain then. By the middle of the month, omicron was dominant, so we’re talking about two different diseases. There’s likely a self-selecting element to this in that Arkansans who have gotten booster shots are probably more likely to be taking precautions, like masking and staying out of the public. On the other hand, Arkansans who are getting boosted are also more likely to be older and part of vulnerable populations.

Of course, these numbers aren’t perfect. The “deaths” figure has led to a lot of public suspicion because of the way they have been counted when people have other health issues.

That’s a legitimate criticism. On the other hand – and this is the second time I’ve used that phrase in this column – unless a person is hit by a bus, it can be hard to pinpoint the cause of their death. If someone is riddled with cancer but then succumbs to pneumonia, what killed them? Should you discount either cause?

As for hospitalizations, the state had 1,600 Wednesday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently said a one-day survey of Arkansas hospitals on Jan. 4 found about 30% of the state’s COVID-19 patients had been admitted for other reasons and tested incidentally for the disease. But some of those 30% might develop symptoms, and even if none of them do, 70% of 1,600 is 1,120.

That’s still a lot.

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and syndicated columnist. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: COVID-19: The latest numbers | Steve Brawner

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