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story.lead_photo.caption Nurses Mandy Stuckey (left) and Tonya Green conduct a coronavirus screening in April at a drive-thru site at New Life Church in North Little Rock. The site, and one at Ouachita Baptist Universityin Arkadelphia, is a partnership between two Arkansas companies. More photos at arkansasonline.com/42testing/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The number of active covid-19 cases in the state set a daily record Saturday even as the new case count and the number of people hospitalized with the virus decreased, according to Arkansas Health Department data.

Another 1,905 new cases were added Saturday, bringing the cumulative total to 143,821. Deaths from the virus rose by 16 to 2,337.

"New cases are still trending up," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Twitter when releasing the fresh numbers Saturday. "Even though our growth rate is less than many areas of the country, we still need to pull together and be mindful of the threat around us.

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The record high of 17,745 active cases Saturday grew from 16,553 the previous Saturday.

The number of covid-19 patients currently hospitalized in the state dropped by 10 to 925. The hospitalizations hit a new high Friday at 936, after a week of numbers rising from 830 on Sunday to more than 900 by Wednesday.

The slight drop came a day after Hutchinson announced that the state will expedite the licensing of new nurses to a 24-hour processing time and waive their fees. New quarantining rules for affected health care workers also were released Friday, allowing for those providers to return to patient bedsides more quickly.

Hutchinson announced Thursday that businesses licensed to sell and allow consumption of alcohol on their premises must now close by 11 p.m.

Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, praised the governor's actions on getting more nurses in hospitals quicker, but said not enough is being done to curb the high number of new cases.

"I don't know what good the 11 p.m. curfew will do. The virus can't tell time," Leding said. "We're headed into the holidays with our ICUs at about 93% capacity, too few health care workers -- all of whom must be exhausted and under tremendous stress -- and we're just not doing enough to save lives. And this isn't just on Gov. Hutchinson. This is on the Legislature, as well."

State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said the state is continuing to see a high level of community spread, causing the high daily case counts and increases in the active cases.

"Though the number of new cases is slightly lower than yesterday, we know that that figure can fluctuate day to day based on a variety of factors, including testing," she said. "We need to see sustained decreases over time, and that will require Arkansans taking steps to stop the spread of covid-19 in their communities."

BY THE NUMBERS

Of the 1,905 new cases in Arkansas, 24 were attributed to correctional facilities, and the remaining were the result of community spread.

The county with the most new confirmed and probable cases Friday was Pulaski County with 158, followed by Washington County with 147; Benton County with 116; Sebastian County with 90; and Saline County with 83.

The counties with the highest number of active cases include Pulaski with 1,834; Washington with 1,416; Benton with 1,053; Sebastian with 819; and Craighead with 780.

Other counties with a high number of active cases include White with 667; Saline with 656; Greene with 501; and Faulkner with 498.

Another two patients were placed on ventilators, raising the total to 154. Since the pandemic hit the state in March, there have been 934 covid-19 patients who required ventilator use.

There were 12,477 new polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests reported Saturday -- a day after reaching a daily record of 15,095. Another 2,491 antigen tests were reported Saturday.

The seven-day rolling average for new PCR tests is 10,933, while the average for antigen tests processed is 2,245, according to Health Department data.

The PCR tests take longer to get results, but are more accurate than the faster antigen tests.

Case reportings are often slower on the weekends, Dillaha said. But new cases the previous Saturday were 1,848, so week to week, the numbers were up.

In the past seven days, the state added 11,655 new covid-19 cases and 178 deaths attributed to the virus.

The state has performed 76,527 PCR tests and 15,709 antigen tests since last Sunday.

THANKSGIVING

Dillaha said the number of new cases that could arise after the Thanksgiving holiday is "highly dependent on the actions people take over the next several days."

"We know that Arkansans want to celebrate the holiday with their families, but we are hopeful that they will plan this week to do so safely," Dillaha said. "This could include meeting virtually instead of in-person or having a small, outdoor gathering where masks are used and physical distance is maintained."

Dillaha said she is celebrating the holiday at home with no outside family or friends coming in.

"I'm not allowing any of my sons to come home for the holidays. As much as I would love to see them, the mother bear in me would like to keep them safe," she said. "I'm looking forward to spending the holidays with them next year. This is not a normal year, so we will be celebrating Thanksgiving over Zoom."

Hutchinson said last week that he and the first lady will be hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, but the guest list is limited to only seven, and windows will be opened -- if weather permits -- to increase ventilation.

Other Arkansans are altering plans because of the virus. In Lonoke, Kim Hall said the usual large family Thanksgiving at the home of her mother, Judy Green, has been canceled.

"I'm going to work and serving our sweet residents a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, but skipping Mom's this year," said Hall, who is a dietary aide at Lonoke Health and Rehab Center. "Mom is cooking for us kids and delivering it, but we aren't getting together this time like every year before."

Laurie Skillern of Cabot said she is bypassing the usual large family gathering and cooking the holiday meal for just her son and mother.

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"Not sure if it's going to be the traditional turkey dinner or something different," she said.

Jennifer McClellan said she's staying in her Little Rock home and cooking a holiday meal for her roommate, who made the decision not to travel to see her family in Ohio.

Maranda Harris of Judsonia said she's having the limit of 10 people -- mostly immediate family members -- for dinner.

"Our norm would have been everyone from all sides going to my grandmother's house," Harris said.

Amanda Goff and her husband, John, are having a holiday meal with just the two of them at their home in Benton. This will be the first Thanksgiving holiday in years that family from Pine Bluff and California do not gather.

"We will still cook some of our favorite foods. My mother is in poor health, and my elderly grandma lives with her and Dad," Goff said. "We have canceled all holiday gatherings that we usually have as a family in order to protect Mom and Grandma."

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Dannatt Bechhoefer and her husband, Rob, live in a multigenerational home in Bald Knob with eight children, a grandchild and Dannatt's mother and father.

Their oldest son was exposed to the virus last week, and the house is now quarantined.

"We usually have 30-35 here for Thanksgiving," Dannatt Bechhoefer said. "It's definitely a different year."

Tammy Gray, the communications coordinator at the Arkansas Retired Teachers Association, said her family's original plans were to travel from their Beebe home to visit her parents in Colorado.

Her husband, Larry Gray, tested positive for covid-19 Monday.

"We are now ending our first week of family quarantine," Tammy Gray said. "Two adults and two bored teenagers trying to decide what we can do to make Thanksgiving interesting at this point."

Becky Calderon of Sherwood said her family's traditional gathering at her dad's home was canceled after her nephew was diagnosed with covid-19 last week.

"I will be staying home," she said.

Leslie Boone said her family has an octogenarian -- her mother -- in the Central Arkansas household, so Thanksgiving dinner will be limited to six immediate family members.

"We feel blessed and fortunate to be together as a family," Boone said.

Dillaha said gatherings with people from different households should be avoided because the risk of transmitting the virus in those settings is significant. It's important to remember, she added, that the virus can spread even among people who don't know they have it and don't feel sick.

"We have received reports that gatherings around Halloween contributed to the significant increases in cases in the following weeks. And those cases are now contributing to the increases in hospitalizations we are experiencing now," she said. "Thanksgiving needs to be celebrated differently this year, or we will see a rise in cases and hospitalizations next month."

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