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State sees smaller new-case increase

by Bill Bowden | December 28, 2020 at 7:18 a.m.
In this file photo Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, state epidemiologist, speaks Wednesday, May 20, 2020, during the daily covid-19 briefing at the Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 908 new covid-19 cases Sunday -- considerably lower than the record number of 3,204 on Thursday.

On Saturday, there were 702 new cases.

But the coronavirus hasn't taken a holiday. The lower numbers over the weekend after Christmas were more about testing and processing delays.

"Yesterday was a much lower number of new cases, partly because of lower testing," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a tweet on Sunday.

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Sunday's numbers from the Health Department revealed 41 new deaths from the coronavirus in Arkansas.

"Of the 41 deaths, 25 are delayed reporting from November," Hutchinson said in his tweet. "Regardless, this is a loss for all of us. Please continue to follow public health guidelines and recommendations."

Those guidelines include social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.

Only 5,456 new polymerase chain reaction test results were added to Sunday's tallies, down from 14,019 added Friday and 7,707 on Saturday. Rapid antigen test results increased to 2,362 on Sunday, from 697 reported on Saturday.

The total number of Arkansas' covid-19 cases climbed Sunday from 213,969 to 214,877. With the 41 additional deaths logged Sunday, the state's total number of coronavirus deaths increased from 3,441 to 3,482.

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Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the state epidemiologist, said she's concerned that Christmas travel will result in a surge in the numbers in early January.

"What concerns me is a surge, and the surge wouldn't show up for a week or so after the holidays," she said, noting that people don't normally start having symptoms of the coronavirus for five or six days.

Dillaha said she understands the desire for families to be together for the holidays, but that could have serious consequences this year.

"This is a very difficult time for many people," she said. "Times like these call for very difficult choices. There are hard decisions that need to be made. I totally empathize with people who are faced with these decisions."

Dillaha also urges Arkansans to avoid crowds on New Year's Eve.

The number of cases rose Friday by 2,122 while the number of deaths that day rose by 32.

Thursday's increase in cases -- 3,204 -- set the daily record in Arkansas. Deaths that day increased by 30.

Saturday's total -- 702 -- was the lowest uptick reported since early November.

In a tweet on Saturday, Hutchinson said the "much lower case numbers" had been expected.

"The real test will be over the next two weeks," he wrote.

"For all who had a more low-key Christmas, thank you. Let's all be careful over the weekend," he added.

There were 21,454 active cases recorded on Sunday, a decrease of 835 from 22,289 on Saturday. In Arkansas, 189,915 people have already recovered from covid-19.

So far, covid-19 has infected roughly 7% of all Arkansans.

Counties with the most new confirmed and probable cases on Sunday include Pulaski, 170; Craighead, 82, Washington, 67; Faulkner, 55; Benton, 42; and Sebastian, 42.

Statewide, covid-19 hospitalizations increased by 34 Sunday, to 1,093, and the number of patients on ventilators increased by 13, to 186.

Since the start of the pandemic, covid-19 has led to 11,009 hospitalizations and 1,180 patients being placed on ventilators.

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The number of polymerase chain reaction test results for December was 317,842 through Saturday, accounting for more than 10% of the state's overall population.

Another 72,104 antigen test results have been processed this month.

Covid-19 continues to pose an elevated risk to elderly people.

Of the state's 3,482 deaths, 80.6% were 65 years old or older; 1,459 occurred in nursing homes. Overall, 11.7% of Arkansas' covid-19 fatalities were among ages 55-64; 4.9% were ages 45-54; 1.9% were ages 35-44; 0.8% were ages 25-34 and 0.1% were ages 18-24. No deaths have been reported of Arkansans age 17 and younger.

Dillaha said Arkansas is following the vaccination advice of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. And their advice has changed from time to time.

Phase 1-A of Arkansas' vaccination plan began Dec. 14. With limited doses of the vaccine available, front-line health-care workers and people who live in long-term care facilities are the focus of Phase 1-A, according to the plan, which is subject to change.

The state health department is holding special clinics to provide front-line emergency medical service personnel with their initial dose of covid-19 vaccine. Clinics were held in Arkadelphia and Star City on Saturday and in Paris on Sunday, said Danyelle McNeill, a spokeswoman for the health department.

Similar clinics for front-line emergency medical service personnel will be held today in Wynne and Mountain View, Tuesday in Little Rock and Wednesday in Fayetteville.

Dillaha said it will probably be another four or five weeks before the state can move to Phase 1-B, which will include vaccination of people age 75 and older.

According to the state's plan, Phase 1-B will also include vaccination of "essential workers." Some of the examples given in the plan include people who work in schools, the food industry, prisons, utilities, truck drivers and "essential government and infrastructure workers."

"We still have a lot of work to do to define exactly how 1-B will look in Arkansas," said Dillaha.

After that, Phase 1-C will begin. It will include the vaccination of people from age 65-74, in addition to adults of any age with chronic health conditions.

Dillaha said Phase 1-C will also include people ages 16-64 with health conditions and essential workers not included in Phase 1-A or 1-B.

Then, Phase 2 will begin.

"In Phase 2 a large number of doses will be available allowing the general population to be vaccinated," according to Arkansas' plan. "In Phase 3 enough doses will be available for all persons needing vaccination and there will be a shift to providing covid-19 as a routine vaccination."

Specific dates haven't been set for these phases.

Dillaha said Arkansas started receiving the Moderna covid vaccine last week. The state had already revived the Pfizer vaccine. Each vaccine requires two doses.

Dillaha said some people experience soreness at the injection site.

"I'm hearing reports from people who didn't have any serious side effects," she said. "We know in general with these vaccines that the side effects tend to be greater with the second dose than the first dose. You're less likely to have side effects the older you are. I think it just varies a lot."

Dillaha said people who get vaccinated need to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

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