Doctor and data scientist support governor’s encouraging COVID-19 statistics


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — In Monday’s daily press briefing, Gov. Asa Hutchinson elaborated on two graphic models that indicated positive trends in Arkansas’ effort to “flatten the curve” relative to COVID-19. A doctor and data scientist agreed with the statistics but said there’s more work and testing needed.

The first graphic maps the duration it’s taking the virus to double in confirmed cases.

The charted information shows it’s taking longer for Arkansas’ positive cases to double since an initial point on March 11. That indicates the state is progressing in that regard, Hutchinson said.

The second graphic shows color-coded lines for each state that represent cumulative cases per 100,000 people. Louisiana leads the pack, according to the graphic, while Arkansas sits in a group close to the very bottom.

Major COVID-19 hotspots like New York, New Jersey, California and Connecticut aren’t listed.

“What you’re doing has been very helpful and successful,” Hutchinson said. “We want to be able to continue that.”

Though the number of cases will continue to rise in the coming weeks, there’s certainly some positive aspects in the presented data, said Dr. Gary Berner, the Community Clinic’s chief medical officer.

“Both [are] pretty busy and involved graphs, but overall encouraging for Arkansas,” Berner said.

More testing would yield higher numbers in positive cases, Berner said. Many people are being turned away because they don’t fit the vulnerable categories laid out in medical guidelines, which include individuals who are older or may have underlying conditions. Of Arkansas’ 3,017,804 estimated population (U.S. Census Bureau, July 2019), only 12,800 people have been tested, as of Monday morning. That calculates to about .004% of the total population.

For people who don’t match those categories, they’ll most likely experience a mild sickness rather than a life-threatening one, Berner said. While social distancing may be keeping numbers down, the doctor said other factors like rural settings and more-open space also need to be considered as reasons why the data appears the way it does.

“There’s a lot of factors that play into that,” Berner said. “It doesn’t necessarily just mean that we’re doing a better job than Louisiana or Tennessee or New York at staying in our homes and not interacting with friends.”

Justin Zahn is a University of Arkansas data sciences professor who coordinates with UAMS to gather and project COVID-19 statistics. The statistics indicate the state’s majority really is limiting social contact, he said.

“The social distancing and other methods we’re utilizing in Arkansas [as a] state works effectively in this,” Zhan said.

Zhan’s also working on a projection model that tracks the virus’ genetic changes, which he said are already happening. The model could help develop effective vaccines and monitor the outbreak.

“The data is changing every moment, every day,” Zhan said. “We are trying to incorporate more and more data that’s generated daily so we can incorporate it in our prediction models for accuracy reasons.”

Both Berner and Zhan say it’s important for Arkansans to continue to follow the guidelines laid out by health professionals. While the stats don’t show an end in sight, they reflect that Arkansans can make a difference in the overall spread.

“Even though we’re flattening that curve, it’s still going to go on for some time,” Hutchinson said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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