State officials have identified multiple regions in Arkansas with concerning levels of growth of COVID-19 cases.
During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith identified the northeast and southwest regions of the state as areas of concern. Smith said that his department has seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Jonesboro and West Memphis in the northeast section of the state, as well as in Texarkana in the southwest.
Smith identified the rate of growth, rather than the total number of cases, in Craighead County as the reason for concern for the Jonesboro area. According to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, there have been 85 confirmed cases in Craighead County. In addition, there have been 197 confirmed cases in Crittenden County, where West Memphis is located, as well as 7 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
“The absolute numbers are not huge there [Jonesboro]. Actually, Crittenden County has more than Craighead County by more than two-fold, but in terms of the growth – increased numbers of cases,” Smith said.
Texarkana, located at the Arkansas-Texas border and sharing a name and geography with the Texas town of the same name, has also been identified as a growing hot spot. The Johns Hopkins University tracker lists 35 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Miller County, where Texarkana is located, along with one confirmed death.
When asked the fact that West Memphis and Texarkana being border counties impacted their number of cases, Smith acknowledged that there was likely spillover from neighboring states. He emphasized the impact that spillover would have in West Memphis while noting that there are fewer cases in the eastern Texas region.
“Arkansas, as the Governor showed yesterday, has got one of the lower rates of cases per population and declining rate of growth in our region,” he said. “There’s always the risk of cases being brought over across our state lines. That’s just part of the reality.”
In addition, Smith pointed to Forrest City as a city that is becoming an emerging hot spot for COVID-19 cases.
According to Smith, the Department of Health has become concerned at the growing number of cases in the Forrest City community – which partially stems from the growing number of infections at the FCI Forrest City complex. Currently, there are
“In Forrest City, we don’t have a large number of cases. Particularly UAMS has done community testing there, now I think, three times. Each time, they have detected more cases. So, we’re concerned. We know that not only do you have a large number of inmates in the FCI but also a large number of workers,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been testing inmates and staff at the Forrest City prison complex in recent days, and Smith said the results are expected soon. When prison staff test positive, the Department of Health will be performing contact investigations to determine how the virus is spreading.
“Wherever we have a positive test of a worker, we’ll have a contact tracing to do in the community as well. So, we will be increasing the testing in the community,” Smith said.
These areas will be focal points for the Department of Health’s testing efforts for now, Smith said. “We want to increase testing, and we want to increase testing where it’s most needed.”