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Washington Co. health officials warn COVID-19 numbers likely higher than reported

The Fayetteville Board of Health warns COVID-19 cases are higher than what is reported and urge people to get vaccinated, wear masks, and get tested.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Washington and Benton Counties are in the top three counties in the state with most new cases added Wednesday, Jan. 12. However, health officials are warning that these numbers will continue to climb.

"It is here, it is going up and we are not at its peak yet,” said City of Fayetteville Health Officer Dr. Marti Sharkey.

Wednesday, Jan. 12, more record highs in COVID-19 cases in Arkansas with nearly 11,000 people testing positive, surpassing the old record by more than 2,000.

In Washington County alone, more than 1,000 new cases were reported. Dr. Sharkey says those numbers are a gross undercount and that the numbers also exclude COVID-positive people who cannot get tested. 

"We're even significantly higher than that because it's not including all the home test kits," said Dr. Sharkey. 

Fayetteville Public Schools made the switch to online learning Thursday and Friday (Jan. 13 and 14) because of high cases and quarantine numbers. Right now, officials say there is a reported 279 students and 39 staff in quarantine.

"That impacts our ability to serve students,” said Alan Wilbourn, Fayetteville Public Schools public information officer. “And so, we know we can do online instruction, we did it."

The district says in-person learning is better for students. However, it’s hard to continue when they don't have the staff.

"We can’t cover all the classes in person,” said Wilbourn. “Online we can make that work…We know it's not ideal but we can get through it and make it work."

Each student has a Chromebook they can work from and the district will offer free meal pickups Thursday from 11:30 a.m. till 12:30 p.m.

Dr. Sharkey says in order to keep our school open, we need to be masked and vaccinated.

"So, we need everybody to do their part so that we can keep our economy and society functioning," Dr. Sharkey said.

Fayetteville Public Schools will return to in-person Tuesday, Jan. 18, after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Fayetteville Board of Health recommends requiring masks in Fayetteville whenever cases at area hospitals exceed 30 cases. Recently, it was reported area hospitals have 121 covid cases.

The City of Fayetteville is also considering reinstating a short-term mask mandate in public service areas and city-owned buildings. If approved, the mandate would be in place until March 2. The measure will be discussed again next Tuesday at the city council meeting.

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