The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences was scheduled to release an updated COVID-19 forecast for Arkansas on Tuesday, and it was going to be an ominous one.

What can be done to change that forecast? Look to Vermont, where only two people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the entire state.

In a television appearance on KATV’s Talk Business & Politics Sunday, UAMS chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson previewed the report by saying Arkansas could have 3,000 new cases a day – numbers not seen since February and March – and 1,500 patients hospitalized. That’s more than the state’s hospitals can handle, he said.

Forecasts can be too cloudy or too sunny, or they can be right. On May 14, UAMS predicted there were would be 364,797 total COVID-19 cases in Arkansas and 5,855 deaths by July 15. By July 19, the actual numbers were 362,580 and 5,992. That’s pretty close. By the next day, the total deaths had risen to 6,007.

The pandemic is now being driven by the virus’ delta variant, which Patterson warned is striking younger people and putting them in bad shape quickly.

Alexx Morris-Cooper, 13, was one of two patients on a ventilator this past weekend and one of seven COVID-19 patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her mother, Angela Morris, shared her story with KTHV and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Arkansas has the nation’s highest caseloads per capita, and that trend is reflected in hospitalizations and deaths. On July 19, the Department of Health announced an additional 79 Arkansans had been hospitalized, bringing the current total to 787, with 129 on ventilators. The one-day increase was the largest since the pandemic began, Jennifer Dillaha, the state’s epidemiologist, told the Democrat-Gazette.

Arkansas also has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. As of July 20, 40.24 percent of the state’s eligible population was fully vaccinated while 9.78 percent was partially so. Half of us have gotten at least one shot, while everyone under age 12 is still ineligible a month before school starts. Almost 16,000 Arkansans received a shot over the weekend. That’s an increase over recent days.

Let’s compare that to Vermont, where 83 percent of the residents are at least partially vaccinated. On Tuesday, that state had 11 new cases and two hospitalized. Since the pandemic began, 259 Vermonters’ deaths have been attributed to COVID.

Arkansas’ population is five times as large as Vermont’s. Our state has 23 times as many total deaths and 393.5 times as many people currently in the hospital.

From the beginning, some people have said the COVID numbers are inflated, and I’m sure they’re not perfect (and they could be too low). One of the claims often made is that hospitals are making COVID diagnoses so they can receive extra funding.

But that begs the question: Why isn’t it happening in Vermont? Are Vermont’s hospitals honest while Arkansas’ are corrupt? Surely they need the revenue as badly as Arkansas’ do.

The hesitancy many people feel toward this new vaccine is understandable. The vaccines were developed quickly using a never-before-used technique.

But while nothing in life is risk free, some risks are greater than others. The vast majority of patients hospitalized because of COVID were not vaccinated. If everyone were vaccinated, we would still have COVID, and some people would be hospitalized and a small number would die from it. But we wouldn’t be in a pandemic. It would just be another disease.

It’s tough to talk about a disease that has become so politicized, which is why Gov. Asa Hutchinson is trying to do it respectfully as he tours the state and talks to skeptics and the hesitant. On Monday he announced he was adding three cities to the tour.

Hutchinson knows that insulting people will not change their minds. But sometimes numbers will, so let’s review them. In Arkansas, there are 787 hospitalized COVID patients. In Vermont, where 83 percent have received at least one vaccine dose and most have received both doses, there are two.

That’s not a coincidence.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

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