A1 A1
Arkansas continues to see slowdown in coronavirus cases

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas on Monday continued seeing a low number of new coronavirus cases after a week of winter weather slowed down testing and vaccinations.

The Department of Health reported 245 new virus cases, bringing the state’s total since the pandemic began to 315,759. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 11 to 588, while deaths increased by six to 5,363.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Arkansas has decreased by about 78 percent, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

“We’re distributing vaccine doses throughout the state and encourage those who are eligible to make sure they’re signed up,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “We expect vaccine and testing numbers to increase this week with clear roads across the state.”

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced a new initiative it was leading in collaboration with the state Department of Health, Walmart, the state Chamber of Commerce and several others to encourage more people to get vaccinated. The Vaccinate the Natural State Campaign is aimed both at businesses and people in the community.

Couple walking across America stop to rest in Conway

No matter how many miles you average walking per day, one couple likely has you beat. Matt Grooms and Grace Nesseth have averaged 18 walking miles per day since Oct. 2, 2020, in a journey that has stretched nearly 1,900 miles and counting.

The couple, their dog Foxie and the baby stroller they affectionately call “Timmy,” started their walking journey on the shores of the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach, California, last October to raise awareness of the nonprofit organization “Time in a Bottle.”

Based in Iowa, “Time in a Bottle” provides home cleaning services to families of terminally ill adults and children with the ultimate goal of allowing families to make memories of their limited time together, per the organization’s website.

On Monday, Grooms, Nesseth, Foxie and their newest dog they found while walking through the Arizona Desert, Nemo, stopped in Conway and reflected on their journey to this point in an interview with the Log Cabin.

At the mouth of a side road off Highway 64 some eight miles outside of Conway, Nesseth told the Log Cabin that the couple’s idea to walk across America started with a book.

“[Grooms] read a book [that gave us] the idea to [walk across the country],” Nesseth said. “We’re trying to spread [awareness of Time in a Bottle] to other cities and states [around the country].”

Since Oct. 2, the couple has spent 104 days walking to get to Conway with the ultimate end goal of reaching Myrtle Beach, S.C. and the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Last week’s winter storms, however, delayed their progress.

“We were held up in Russellville for 10 days,” Grooms said.

While the couple lived in California at the time they started their 2,600 mile walking journey to Myrtle Beach, Grooms and Nesseth are originally from Idaho and Iowa, respectively. Their apartment lease in California expired as they began the trip in October. With Timmy the baby stroller, which Grooms referred to as the couple’s “house,” and their two dogs in tow, they’ve now crossed through six states with many more to go ahead of their expected arrival in Myrtle Beach by June.

“We’re not in a rush,” Grooms said when asked about how much longer he expected them to walk before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. “We’re not trying to set any records.”

Both Grooms and Nesseth encouraged those who want to show support for their walk across America to donate to “Time in a Bottle” through the nonprofit’s website timeinabottle.org. And for those who aren’t able to donate, sharing their story is just as valuable, Nesseth said.

“Sharing our story helps a lot,” Nesseth said.

Grooms echoed her thoughts.

“[We’re using our social media platforms] to share our life, [spread] positivity, happiness and [a joy] for finding love in the little things,” Grooms said.

To keep up with Grooms and Nesseth’s journey, you can follow them on Twitter at @theggoldenroad or connect to them through their website at www.theggolden road.org. To learn more about “Time in a Bottle,” visit their website at www.timeinabottle.org.

Staff Writer Kolton Rutherford can be reached at krutherford@thecabin.net.

Conway proclaims Feb. 21-27 Black Restaurant Week

Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry released an official proclamation on Feb. 21 declaring Feb. 21-27 2021 Black Restaurant Week.

Castleberry named this due to the fact that the city of Conway has experienced growth in the number of Black-owned restaurants in 2020 – even during the course of COVID-19. This is despite the complications of owning businesses during the negative effects COVID-19 has on the hospitality industry.

Another reason Castleberry named this week “Black Restaurant Week” is because he wants to help increase public awareness of Black-owned food service providers located throughout Conway.

“Black owned restaurants and food services providers have brought culinary and cultural diversity which helps to strengthen the presence of the African American community,” Castleberry wrote in the proclamation.

According to the proclamation, sharing different cuisines creates an opportunity to appreciate diversity and increases understanding.

“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Conway to become aware of the role Black restaurant owners and food providers play through the city of Conway and the surrounding areas,” Castleberry wrote in the proclamation.

US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday, a staggering number that all but matches the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.

President Joe Biden held a sunset moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House and ordered American flags lowered at federal buildings for the next five days.

“We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” Biden said. “We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur.”

Monday’s grim milestone, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, comes as states redouble efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine into arms after last week’s winter weather closed clinics, slowed vaccine deliveries and forced tens of thousands of people to miss their shots.

Despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.

The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million coronavirus deaths globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater, in part because many cases were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 deaths. The toll hit 200,000 in September and 300,000 in December, then took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and another month to climb from 400,000 to 500,000.

Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day.

But experts warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. And some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.

Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky, who has treated scores of COVID-19 patients, said he never thought the U.S. deaths would be so high.

“I was one of those early ones that thought this may be something that may hit us for a couple months ... I definitely thought we would be done with it before we got into the fall. And I definitely didn’t see it heading off into 2021,” Stanton said.

Kristy Sourk, an intensive-care nurse at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, said she is encouraged by the declining caseload and progress in vaccinating people, but “I know we are so far from over.”

People “are still dying, and families are still isolated from their loved ones who are unable to be with them so that is still pretty heart-wrenching,” she said.

Snow, ice and weather-related power outages closed some vaccination sites and held up shipments across a large swath of the nation, including in the Deep South.

As a result, the seven-day rolling average of adminstered first doses fell by 20 percent between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House said that about a third of the roughly 6 million vaccine doses delayed by bad weather were delivered over the weekend, with the rest expected to be delivered by mid-week, several days earlier than originally expected. White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt on Monday attributed the improved timeline to an “all-out, round-the-clock” effort over the weekend that included employees at one vaccine distributor working night shifts to pack vaccines.

In Louisiana, state health officials said some doses from last week’s shipments were delivered over the weekend and were expected to continue arriving through Wednesday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week’s supply arrived Monday. And in Nashville, Tennessee, health officials were able to vaccinate more than 2,300 senior citizens and teachers over the weekend after days of treacherous weather.

“We’ll be asking the vaccine providers to do a lot,” said Louisiana’s top public health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter, who expects it to take a week or two to catch up on vaccinations after a storm coated roads with ice and left many areas without running water.

Mary Pettersch, an 80-year-old Overland Park, Kansas, retiree who is spending the winter with her 83-year-old husband in Palmhurst, Texas, anticipated that the second dose they were supposed to get on Tuesday will be delayed because of last week’s harsh weather.

She made multiple calls to health officials Monday, but they weren’t returned. Still, she wasn’t too worried.

“Oh, I would like to get it, but if I can’t get it here, I will get it back home,” she said, noting that she is returning to Kansas in April. “At 80 you don’t get frustrated anymore,” she said.

Some hospitals, clinics, community sites and pharmacies that are in Louisiana’s vaccination network will get double allocations of doses this week – just as Gov. John Bel Edwards starts offering shots to teachers, daycare workers, pregnant women and people age 55 to 64 with certain preexisting conditions.

New York City officials expected to catch up on vaccinations after being forced to delay scheduling tens of thousands of appointments last week, the mayor said Monday.

“That means we’ve basically lost a full week in our vaccination efforts,” DeBlasio said.

More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and about 1.6 million per day received either first or second dose over the past seven days, according to the CDC.

The nation’s supply could expand significantly if health regulators approve a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

The company said it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses by the end of March if it gets the green light, and would have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June.

That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale, the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.

J&J disclosed the figures in written testimony ahead of a congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.

U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot, and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week.

J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot. The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses spaced several weeks apart.


Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Kansas. Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press writers Brian Hannon in Salt Lake City, Utah; John Antczak in Long Beach, California; Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington; Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Matthew Perrone and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.