County Labeled 'high risk'

Low vaccination rate cited as factor in surge

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Local health officials and other organized efforts tracking COVID-19 cases across Arkansas now say Stone County is at “high risk” for infection, and they point to the county’s low vaccination rate as the cause.

State Health Department records indicated one active case in the county on June 2. There are now 63.
Officials say they are unaware of COVID variants here, but that variants are surging.

“We’re concerned about the numbers because they’ve really jumped,” Stone County Health Officer Dr. James Zini said, adding that he admitted three COVID patients with pneumonia into hospitals last week. “We’re one of the hot counties in the state because of our low vaccination rate and if you didn’t get the vaccine, you’re at much greater risk.”

A spokesperson for White River Medical Center in Batesville said Monday that 16 COVID patients were hospitalized there, and that all admissions across north central Arkansas are being directed there. Stone County Medical Center in Mountain View is not admitting patients with COVID-19.

The Arkansas Department of Health tests samples for variants, but not all samples are tested, said Sheila Pace, public relations and foundation development coordinator at WRMC. She also said anecdotal evidence suggests that un-vaccinated people who are not wearing masks in public are vulnerable to “community spread.”

While statistics vary among official sources, Zini said Stone County’s rate of fully immunized residents older than 12 is at around 22 percent.

Statewide, 41 percent of the population ages 12 and older are fully immunized. The state health department says 6,661 doses have been administered in Stone County.

“We’re experiencing an increase in the number of cases and if you’re not vaccinated you really should be,” Zini said. “Without it, your chances of contracting the virus are greatly increased. Please consider getting it.”

Candace Branscum, administrator at the Stone County Health Department, said testing numbers have increased recently from two to three tests per day up to five to 10 per day. She also said the number of patients getting vaccines is on the rise. Adults may receive the vaccine at the health department on a walk-in basis.

Children ages 12 to 18 are advised to schedule an appointment. Branscum said the health department has a Pfizer vaccine event for that age category this Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Local pharmacies are also still administering vaccines.

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