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Arkansas universities seeing success combating COVID-19 infections

UA-Fort Smith says their new vaccine incentive program has become very popular.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — College campuses around Arkansas have seen a decline in COVID-19 cases.

The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith (UAFS) has reported single-digit covid cases each week for a month now. This week the campus has two new student cases and two faculty and staff cases.

"It's very encouraging," Chris Kelly, director of marketing and communications at UAFS, told 5NEWS. "You know we had those concerns as everyone did coming into the semester and put some precautions in place for that. Our students want to be here on campus, our faculty want to be in the classroom, so to be able to continue to have that throughout the semester, very gratifying and very exciting." 

Kelly says they credit their low case count to everyone taking the precautions like mask-wearing indoors seriously and their new vaccine incentive program, Lion Vax.

"It really is meant and designed to encourage our students to learn more about the vaccine, see the benefits of the vaccine and then make the best decision for themselves," he said. 

The Lion Vax program started in late September. So far, 800 students have signed up. Vaccinated students who wish to join are entered into drawings for things like tablets, lion bucks and bookstore vouchers. 

Junior Nerissa Recinos got vaccinated before the program started but gladly entered her name. She encourages her fellow students who aren't vaccinated to get the shot and join the program.

"Think of everyone around you and try to have compassion, empathy, and you always want people to be safe. College students, we always need extra help, so I think they would want to do it too," she said. 

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha with the Arkansas Department of Health says college campuses have done a significant job tracking cases and limiting the spread. She says our numbers are looking good across college campuses but not to let your guard down because we have flu seasons and the holidays coming up. 

"Our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. We'll have much lower levels of the spread of COVID-19 in the college setting, and that's going to be really important for the wintertime because that's when more people are indoors and more likely to spread it," she said.

The University of Arkansas Fayetteville is also reporting single-digit new cases, and their dashboard says they have only five new cases this week and a total of 20 active cases. The University says their vaccine incentive program has also been successful, with 17,000 students signing up so far.

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