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Virus rate creeps up after holidays

LITTLE ROCK — In a single week, the number of Arkansas public school districts with COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period has seen a nearly five-fold increase, going from 28 last week to 138 this week, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said Wednesday, citing its analysis of Arkansas Department of Health data current as of Monday.

The number of districts at this high level of community spread is not a record ― 201 districts were at 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents in the week of Jan. 11, 2021, and again in the week of Aug. 23 ― but the week-to-week increase is the largest on record.

“Arkansas is experiencing uncontrolled spread of the omicron variant,” said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. “Arkansans need to take immediate precautions, and local school leaders need to take actions to protect our children.”

Thompson urged all school districts to require masks for students and staff, encourage vaccination, and redouble efforts at social distancing, hand washing, and increased ventilation. School leaders should also be prepared to transition to virtual learning, he said.

Of the 138 districts with 14-day rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents, 39 have infection rates of more than 100 new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period, up from five last week.

ACHI’s map showing COVID-19 infection rates in school districts ― available at ― uses the following color key: 0 to 9 new known infections per 10,000 residents over 14 days, dark green; 10 to 19 infections per 10K residents, light green; 20 to 29 infections per 10K residents, yellow; 30 to 49 infections per 10K residents, orange; 50 to 99 infections per 10K residents, red; and 100 or more infections per 10K residents, purple.

As of Monday, the following 138 school districts had infection rates of at least 50 new known infections per 10,000 district residents over the previous 14 days.

The color-shading of a district is based on infections among community residents living within the geographical boundaries of each school district and not on cases among school employees and students.

Known infections reported by ACHI include confirmed and probable cases. Probable cases are based on verbal reporting and antigen test results, as identified by the Department of Health.

Infection rates and counts are not shown for districts with fewer than five reported infections to reduce the possibility of identifying individuals. School district counts do not include infections among incarcerated populations, in nursing homes, or in human development centers.

ACHI also updated the maps and tables on its website displaying vaccination rates by public school district, community, and ZIP code, using Department of Health data current as of Monday. Twenty-one school districts have achieved vaccination rates of at least 50 percent of district residents, one of them over 60 percent: Bentonville, at 61 percent.

spotlight centerpiece popular
White River Wonderland continues to wow tourists

The Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC) announced that the White River Wonderland Ferris Wheel attracted 5,387 riders during last month’s ten-day run, despite persistent inclement weather.

“In 2020, we partnered with the City to add the Ferris Wheel to the already impressive list of attractions at the White River Wonderland. Our goal was to enhance the visitor experience and create an annual tradition that will bring guests back year after year,” said Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Crystal Johnson. “Attracting dollars from outside of our local community is a great way to support our small businesses and strengthen our local economy.”

Tooth Be Told Pediatric Dentistry sponsored the White River Wonderland Ferris Wheel, along with ARcare, Bank of Cave City, First Community Bank, LifePlus, Merchants & Planters Bank, Bad Boy, Ozark Mountain Poultry, The Home Depot, Peco, Centennial Bank, CenterPoint Energy, FNBC Bank, Intimidator, Entergy, Southern Bank, and Walmart.

“We are thankful for our Ferris wheel sponsors who recognize the need to invest in tourism-related opportunities,” Johnson said.

Tourism is a critical economic development strategy for the City of Batesville Economic Development program, generating 8.89 million dollars in travel-related payroll and 45.4 million dollars on travel-related expenditures in Independence County annually.

The travel and tourism industry is among the largest in Arkansas, adding to the vibrant and diverse economy. Batesville’s White River Wonderland is one of the most prominent attractions in North Central Arkansas, hosting travelers from San Jose, California, to Washington, D.C.

Through targeted marketing, BACC was able to draw the interest of travelers from thirty-three states and twelve countries. Ferris Wheel riders came from as far away as California and Maine and as close as Tennessee, Missouri, and Texas. Just fifty-five percent of riders hailed from the state of Arkansas.

“We hear from families from across the country who have built their holiday traditions around their trip to Batesville, Arkansas,” said Batesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh. “We are proud to have earned the designation as the Christmas Capital of Arkansas. The hard work of Johnathan Abbott and the City of Batesville Landscaping Department continues to pay off every year.”

“Our community and partners consistently step up to plate to support great events like this,” Elumbaugh concluded.

For those wanting to support future White River Wonderland events or develop new signature events, contact the Chamber of Commerce at projects@batesville


Saturday: A chance of freezing drizzle before 10 a.m., then a chance of drizzle between 10-11 a.m., then rain showers likely after 11 a.m. Some thunder is also possible. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 46. Wind chill values as low as 17 early. South southeast wind 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60 percent. Little or no ice accumulation expected.

Saturday night: Showers and possibly a thunderstorm. Low around 42. South southeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming northwest after midnight. Chance of precipitation is 100%.

Sunday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before noon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 54. Light and variable wind becoming north 5 to 10 mph in the morning. Winds could gust as high as 25 mph.

Sunday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 23. North wind around 5 mph.

Monday: Sunny, with a high near 49. Calm wind becoming north around 5 mph.

Monday night: Clear, with a low around 23. Calm wind.

Warrants issued in fleeing and theft cases

A warrant has been issued for Dekota Ray Acklin, 22, of Bald Knob. According to the affidavit for arrest, Acklin led Independence County deputies on a high-speed chase through Batesville on Dec. 22, before crashing at the base of Ramsey Mountain.

Deputies attempted to stop Acklin for expired tags on a 2007 Hyundai Elantra. Acklin then drove through a residential yard, and reached speeds of 80 mph, veered into oncoming lanes of traffic.

During a search of the vehicle, a small bag of a white crystalline substance that later field-tested positive for methamphetamine was found underneath the driver seat. It weighed 4.28 grams.

Bond is set at $75,000.

A probable cause warrant has been issued for Russ Duffield Pyle, 48, on charges stemming from a commercial burglary at a tobacco store in October.

According to the affidavit of probable cause for arrest, Pyle is facing charges of two counts of breaking and entering, which are class D felonies, one count of commercial burglary, a class C felony, and theft of property, a class A misdemeanor.

On Oct. 3, 2021, police responded to an activated burglary alarm at Vapor Maven on Eagle Mountain Blvd. Glass in the front door had been smashed with a rock and upon investigation, it was determined that $500 was taken from the safe and $200 from a register. Pyle had worked at the store before being terminated for stealing inventory. He was identified on security camera footage of the incident. Additionally, investigators learned Pyle had been previously convicted of two prior felonies in Virginia.

Bond is set at $150,000.