With known COVID-19 cases having now more than tripled in White County since the beginning of June, The Daily Citizen asked the Arkansas Department of Health to address some commonly held beliefs about the virus.
Gavin Lesnick, public information director for the department, provided the answers. There are 27 counties in the state (out of 75) with more COVID-19 cases than White County, but the health department has reported that while the county had 44 cases as of June 1, that number had nearly doubled to 86 by June 30 and had increased to 156 by Tuesday night, with 51 active positives (compared to 17 active June 30). Two deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported in the county.
Q: Are numbers being inflated concerning the amount of people infected?
Lesnick: “No, our data shows the number of confirmed tests that have returned positive among residents of Arkansas. These tests detect the presence of the virus.”
Q: Are the amounts of COVID-19 cases rising primarily because of more testing?
Lesnick: “No, we are aware of community spread and transmission within clusters in different parts of the state. Testing helps us identify cases, but it is not the cause of our increase.”
Q: Wouldn’t we have just as many flu cases and deaths each year as with COVID-19 if we were testing for them as much as we have been COVID-19?
Lesnick: “We do closely monitor flu cases and deaths. More patients have died from COVID-19 in Arkansas than died from the flu last season.”
Q: Would we be better off if we just completely returned to normal activities and let the coronavirus run its course?
Lesnick: “No. If 1 percent of people who get COVID-19 were to die and it were allowed to spread across the entire population, the death toll would be significant. There is also no guarantee that recovering from COVID-19 will provide lasting immunity.”
Q: Is it necessary to social distance and/or wear masks outside?
Lesnick: “Yes. Masks should be worn in any setting, indoor or outdoor, where people are exposed to non-household members and social distancing cannot be assured. More details about face coverings are available in our guidance.”
Q: Is socially distancing alone enough to stop the spread of the virus?
Lesnick: “Social distancing is one step, but it should be combined with the use of face coverings, good hygiene practices, including frequent handwashing, and close monitoring of possible symptoms.”
Q: Can wearing masks cause more harm than good?
Lesnick: “No, face coverings are safe and one effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends that cloth face coverings should not be worn by children under age of 2, or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. They are recommended for all others.”
Q: Are most kinds of masks people are wearing ineffective?
Lesnick: “Face coverings are aimed at protecting others, though a World Health Organization study found they gave some protection from COVID-19 to the wearer as well. In Missouri recently, two COVID-19-infected stylists with symptoms in a hair salon exposed 140 clients and six co-workers. The salon where they were employed required universal use of face coverings. The stylists wore cloth masks. Of the 46 people who agreed to be tested for COVID-19, none were positive. Additionally, none of the 146 exposed people developed symptoms of COVID-19.”
Q: How should citizens handle possible hoaxes concerning the virus?
Lesnick: “We don’t monitor all the hoaxes, but we strongly encourage anyone who comes across questionable information to check it against the resources we have available on our website: https://healthy.arkansas .gov.”