The number of Arkansans hospitalized for the coronavirus reached a new record Monday when 33 more patients were added to the tally, bringing the total to 688, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health.
Of the state's 9,144 total hospital beds, only 2,574 are available, according to Health Department data. Of the 1,082 intensive care unit beds in the state, covid-19 patients were using 260 of them Monday. There were only 119 ICU beds open as of Monday.
Another 27 deaths from the coronavirus were also reported Monday, with the state's toll approaching 2,000 since the start of the pandemic. The cumulative total as of Monday was 1,985.
The Health Department reported that 584 new cases were added to the state's covid-19 count, for a cumulative total of 113,641 since the first case in the state was confirmed in March. It was the first time since Oct. 19 that fewer that 600 cases were added to the count.
On Monday, 10,135 cases were considered active, a drop of 285 from the day before.
"There is a slight decrease in new cases compared to last Monday with an increase in testing. While this is some good news, we are still seeing high numbers of deaths and hospitalizations," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement, adding that during today's update, he will discuss the state's "winter strategy" and provide an update on the state's schools and hospitals.
Monday's reduction in new cases comes after two weeks of record-setting numbers. On seven different days, the state's number of new cases rose by more than 1,000.
There has been a total of 6,914 new cases added to the tally over the past seven days.
The case numbers reported by the Health Department on Monday were based on 7,866 lab-confirmed test results, as well as 578 antigen tests. Since the pandemic began, the state has conducted more than 1.4 million covid-19 tests.
The covid-19 patients who require the use of a ventilator rose by 12 to a total of 119. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 845 Arkansans who have required ventilators.
The record for Arkansans on ventilators was set in August, when it rose to 120 on several days and hit 122 on Aug. 18.
Of the 1,065 ventilator machines in the state's hospitals, 685 were available on Monday, according to Health Department data.
With many Arkansans trekking to the polls today, Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said voters should adhere to Health Department guidance.
Wearing cloth or surgical masks is recommended rather than the less effective gaiters or bandannas, according to the Health Department's "Covid-19 Guidance for Voters."
Other safety tips include maintaining 6 feet of separation from others while waiting in line and voting; coughing into your sleeve or covering your mouth with a tissue or handkerchief; and voting when there are fewer people present.
Poll workers will wear masks, wash their hands and use hand sanitizer. The workers will disinfect the polling machines and provide hand sanitizer or wipes after each use, according to the Health Department.
According to the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, voters cannot be prohibited from casting their ballots if they are ill.
Some polling sites are within facilities that require screening or masks. According to Health Department guidance, voters are not required to comply with these requirements, but they must proceed directly to the voting area and depart promptly without using other areas within the facilities.
As for election watch parties, McNeill said people need to abide by Health Department directives and guidance for large gatherings.
"If the gatherings are very large (over 100), there would need to be an event plan submitted to ADH," McNeill said.
The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, a public residential school for gifted 11th and 12th graders, late Friday announced to families that the student body at that campus will transition to remote learning later this month for the remainder of the fall semester.
Additionally, the school announced, students will have to undergo testing for covid-19 and receive a negative report before returning to the campus in January for the spring semester.
Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts students will attend classes on campus through Nov. 24. They will break for the Thanksgiving holidays and then resume their coursework with remote learning at their homes on Nov. 30. The remote-learning period will encompass two weeks of classes and a week of final exams.
Corey Alderdice, director of the Hot Springs-based school that serves students from across the state, also said in the message that students will return to the campus for the spring semester on Jan. 10, a week later than originally planned. All returning students must undergo a PCR covid-19 test -- not the faster but somewhat less reliable antigen tests -- between Jan. 5 and 6.
A confirmed negative result must be reported by each student in order to return to campus.
"Cases both within Arkansas and across the nation continue to climb and will do so for the next several months according to the latest projections by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences," Alderdice wrote.
"Despite recommendations to amend Thanksgiving plans, we believe this will be challenging for many families. Rather than worry about a subsequent spike of infections on campus, our goal for the month of December is to place our full emphasis on learning and successful completion of coursework."
As for the one-week delay to the start of the spring semester, school leaders said that is meant to give students time to quarantine and undergo the covid-19 test after Christmas.
"We believe it is absolutely critical that students have a period of isolation after the holidays," Alderdice said, adding that the "clean slate" protocol is one of the main reasons that the school has been able to sustain the residential program to date.
"We will continue to balance our priorities of safety and learning with the desire to facilitate a meaningful and dynamic residential experience in the year ahead," he said.
Elsewhere in the state, the Northside Elementary School prekindergarten and kindergarten campus in the Siloam Springs School District has pivoted to online learning for its more than 280 pupils as the result of positive covid-19 cases among employees. The shift to online learning started Monday and is to run through Nov. 13.
The White County Central High School in Judsonia, for grades seven through 12, used a day of remote learning on Monday to clean its buildings. On-campus classes are to resume today.
The Little Rock School District reported that in the 24 hours ending at 3 p.m. Monday, three people tested positive for covid-19 and six people were quarantined for exposure to the virus.
The cases involved one employee at Geyer Springs Early Childhood Center and one student each at Jefferson Elementary and Pinnacle View Middle School. One person was quarantined from each of six different workplaces or schools in the district.
The Little Rock district is tracking daily, weekly and monthly cases of the virus and posting the information on its website. In the just-concluded month of October, the district reported 78 students and 51 employees who had tested positive.
Additionally, there were 653 students and 235 employees who had to be quarantined as the result of exposure to others with the virus.
That compares to September when there were 60 students and 22 staff members who tested positive, as well as 430 students and 182 staff members who had to be quarantined.
The Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District reported that a staff member at Warren Dupree Elementary School has tested positive for the virus, resulting in 10 students being sent home for a 14-day quarantine.
ACTIVE SCHOOL CASES
Statewide, numbers of active covid-19 cases in public school districts and in public and private colleges and universities dropped compared with numbers last week.
In school districts, active cases declined from 1,078 last Thursday to 1,024 on Monday, according to the Health Department, which reports twice weekly on covid-19 numbers in educational institutions.
Sixty-one districts have at least five active cases, compared with 66 districts last Thursday.
The 61 named districts have a total of 720 active cases. There are an additional 304 covid-19 cases in districts that are not individually named because there are fewer than five cases each. District names are not given to protect patient privacy.
As it did in the Thursday report, Springdale School District had the highest number of active cases Monday, with 55. The Greene County Tech School District followed with 43, the Rogers School District with 42, and the Little Rock district with 38. The Nettleton School District was next with 24 cases, and the neighboring Jonesboro system had 23.
Since June 15, there have been 9,021 cumulative covid-19 cases among public school district employees and students.
That number was 8,509 in Thursday's Health Department report.
The Health Department reported there have been 510 covid-19 cases in private schools since June 15. Private schools have 52 active cases, including 13 at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock and seven at the New School in Fayetteville.
The number of active cases at the state's colleges and universities has declined in recent days, from 404 last Thursday to 376 on Monday, according to the same state report.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville has 56 active cases, bringing the total since June 15 for the state's flagship university to 2,262. The university had 53 active cases last Thursday.
The University of Central Arkansas had 26 active cases in the Monday report. Arkansas State, Harding University and Arkansas Tech University each had 22 active cases. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock was further down the list with six active cases.
The colleges and universities have now had 6,249 cumulative virus cases since June 15, up from 6,079 last Thursday.
TRICK OR TREAT
On Saturday, the governor posted on Twitter a picture of himself and the first lady, Susan Hutchinson, dressed up as health care providers for Halloween.
The photo shows the Hutchinsons standing on the front of the Governor's Mansion's porch, dressed with blue scrubs, white coats, face shields and stethoscopes. Behind them, dressed as a zombie bride and groom, were Sarah and Dave Wengel, the governor's daughter and son-in-law.
In front of them was a table laden with candy enclosed in plastic bags.
Hutchinson's post reads, "Come on by for a socially distanced Halloween treat. Our medical professionals are currently treating Zombie newlyweds."
"It has been our custom to wear costumes on Halloween at the Mansion and pass out treats to children, mostly from the neighborhood," Hutchinson said in an emailed statement. "This year we honored our health care professionals who have been true heroes during this pandemic. The candy was individually wrapped and was on a table for the groups to pick up. Everyone wore masks and socially distanced."
The governor's Twitter post was retweeted more than 120 times as of late Monday. Among the dozens of comments on the post, many were negative.
"I am an old ER doc. This is an insult to everyone in healthcare working to save the victims of your mismanagement of the COVID pandemic," wrote Dr. Richard Daily, a retired emergency room doctor from Arkansas.
Jennifer_inLR posted a picture of her husband in surgical garb inside a health care room. She wrote: "See this? This is NOT a Halloween costume. This is my husband. A real doctor who has to dress this way to stay alive."
The Blue Hog Report, hosted by Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell, replied with: "My friend--a state employee--got engaged in August. She died of COVID in September. Maybe 'zombie newlywed' isn't the best choice of costume during a pandemic that has killed nearly 2000 Arkansans."
Not all the comments were negative, however. Candace Drozal thanked the governor in her post for "showing us how we can have a safe Halloween."
"Kids certainly appreciate it even if it's a bit different this year. Our neighborhood has come up with creative ways to keep everyone safe yet still have some fun in this year that can take all the fun if we let it."