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After a record-breaking month of surging COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Arkansas and across the U.S., the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down — and it is taking Arkansas lives and livelihoods with it.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 53 new deaths from confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Monday, the most the state has seen in a single day since the pandemic began. The additional deaths bring the total death toll in Arkansas to 2,713, up 211 in a week.

In light of the spiking death toll, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that he will begin hosting community meetings across Arkansas to discuss the state of the pandemic in Arkansas. He will be at the Jones Center in Springdale Wednesday at 10 a.m.

The record deaths come the same day that the Arkansas Hospitality Association released new economic impact data indicating that the majority of restaurants in the state are continuing to suffer economically during the pandemic. Of restaurant operators in the state, 84% said their sales volume in October was down from the same month in 2019, by an average of 28%, according to the report. The national average was a 29% decrease.

Sixty-four percent of the operators said they expect sales to decrease from current levels during the next three months, while only 7% said they expect to see sales growth, according to the report. Seventy-four percent said their labor costs are higher than before the pandemic, and 85% said their restaurant’s profit margin is lower. Nationally, 86% of operators reported a lower profit margin.

Amid slow and contentious negotiations in the U.S. Congress over a second COVID-19 relief bill – the first major package was passed nearly nine months ago, on March 27 – restaurant owners expressed concern that their establishments would not stay in business without more federal aid. Thirty-six percent of state operators said it is unlikely that their restaurants will be in business in six months if the federal government does not pass and administer further relief packages. This aligns closely with the national average of 36%.

As Arkansas restaurateurs wait to discover their fate, the pandemic continues to ravage the public and strain hospital capacity locally and across the state. Active cases in Northwest Arkansas have been spiking for months, and despite a few recent dips, both Washington and Benton Counties are both on an overall upward trend.

Washington County reported 1,463 total active cases (confirmed and probable), and 16,870 total cumulative cases Monday. Benton County reported 1,195 total active cases and 13,279 total cumulative cases.x

Total active cases decreased by 12 in a day but increased by 247 in a week in Washington County. In Benton County, active cases fell by 96 in a day but rose by 178 in a week. Total cumulative cases in the two counties increased by 1,322 and 1,188, respectively, in a week.

Statewide, total cumulative cases (confirmed and probable) increased by 14,683 between Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, for a total of 172,042, according to the ADH. Cases rose by 1,118 between Sunday and Monday.

Total active cases fell to 18,057, a decrease of 693 in a day but a net increase of 1,917 in a week, according to the ADH. Hospitalizations fell slightly to 1,053, down by 23 in a day but only 10 in a week. Statewide, 182 patients were on ventilators Monday, an increase of three in a day but a net decrease of 19 in a week

In total, 151,248 confirmed and probable Arkansas cases were considered inactive by Monday, an increase of 1,758 from Sunday and 12,522 from Nov. 30.

The number of active cases on the UA campus rose to by four Monday from 58 Friday, for a total of 62 active campus cases, according to the UA COVID-19 Dashboard.

Of those, 55 were students and seven were staff members. The dashboard lists 17 new cases identified in the reporting period of Friday-Sunday. The data sheet linked to the dashboard lists 15 new cases in that period. It is unclear which number is correct. Of the new cases, at least nine were identified through on-campus testing, and at least six were self-reported.

Of the 19,854 tests performed on campus since Aug. 10, 99 have been positive, for a cumulative positivity rate of 5%.

Sarah Komar is the news editor for The Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as a staff reporter in 2019 and early 2020.

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