UAMS researchers are following the COVID-19 pandemic in Arkansas and predicting its future spread.

A 21-page report issued Tuesday by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences forecasts rapid increases in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide, peaking in late October or early November.

The report from the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health was produced in collaboration with others at UAMS, and at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

CLICK THIS YOUTUBE LINK to watch a six-minute video in which UAMS officials discuss the findings.

CLICK THE PDF to see the complete report.

A summary of the report notes that Arkansas has experienced a dramatic upsurge in COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

“The number of cases reported to the Arkansas Department of Health surpassed even, at the time, the seemingly high numbers forecast by our short-term models for the end of June. In the report prepared for June 19th, we were confident in forecasting the number of COVID cases in Arkansas would reach 16,000 by then end of the month. In reality, the number of COVID cases on June 30th was over 20,000, doubling the number of COVID cases in just over three weeks,” the summary said.

The report said that models, in addition to being based on empirically derived assumptions, are based on data.

“If data change, the forecasts will change, too. In almost every forecast we have made, we begin by saying, ‘if all things remain the same.’ 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,” the summary said.

“The number of new COVID cases in Arkansas changed so drastically after June 19th, the short-term models were no longer providing an accurate forecast. As we go forward, we will also see differences in forecasts using the short-term and long-term models,” the summary said.

“Short-term forecasts are more sensitive to recent data than are long-term models. Short-term models, which forecast no more than 15 days out, react to and reflect more recent data than long-term models. Recent data in long term models are much less likely to impact predictive growth curves because more recent data are a much smaller proportion of the whole. This is why we caution again looking for changes to an epidemic curve in daily data,” the report said.

The report said the short-term forecast is for the state to reach about 35,000 cases by July 10th.

“The time-series short-term models provide a more conservative, but nonetheless disturbing forecast. The time-series predicts the number of COVID cases will reach 30,000 by July 12th. The time series model of COVID deaths forecast 375, also by July 12th. The long-term forecasts do not show much change from previous models,” the report said.

Arkansas should expect 150,000 active cases by October 30 “if nothing changes.”

“This model is also forecasting, if all things stay the same, 2,794 hospitalizations, 838 intensive care cases, and 586 ventilations. The simulations forecast 20,000 daily new infections by the end of September, if conditions do not change. With modest increases in mitigation, the simulation is showing 12,000 daily new infections.

“With almost complete compliance with mask wearing in public, the simulation is showing significantly few new daily infections, around 6,000,” the report said.

“A similar pattern emerges with respect to daily deaths. Focusing on the current epidemic in Arkansas, the counties with the highest number of cases per 40,000 are Yell, Sevier, and Lee counties. These are followed by Chicot and Washington counties. The greatest COVID disease burden in the state is not in counties having the highest absolute numbers of cases, but in smaller, more rural counties.

“In several rural counties more than 50 percent of cases have been identified in the last two weeks, suggest increased growth of the epidemic in those counties. This may be due to more widespread testing, but is equally likely to increase spread of the virus,” the report said.

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