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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson gets a flu shot Wednesday from Neldia Dycus, a registered nurse for the Arkansas Department of Health, in the governor’s conference room at the state Capitol. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

The state epidemiologist warned of an increased number of people becoming infected with the coronavirus at church events, funerals and other gatherings as the state's count of virus cases rose Wednesday by 982, the largest one-day increase since Saturday.

The increase on Wednesday comprised 874 infections confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests and 108 probable cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests.

The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Health Department, rose by 20, to 1,229.

"Today we are again reminded of the serious nature of COVID-19," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.

"Following the guidelines of the Arkansas Department of Health continues to be the most effective way to mitigate the spread of this virus. Wearing a mask, keeping a six-foot distance, and frequently washing your hands will help slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state."

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

All the deaths added Wednesday were from confirmed cases, bringing the total number of deaths among such cases to 1,080.

The state's count of virus deaths includes 149 among probable cases.

"I think this goes to show that we still have continued community spread, and it is not yet going down," state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said of Wednesday's increase in cases.

She said the spread among college students who returned to campuses last month seems to be going down, but more transmission has been happening at church services, funerals and other gatherings where "the guidelines for social distancing and face coverings are not being followed."

"I think part of it may be that people are tired of the pandemic, and they want to go back to their lives the way it was before the pandemic," Dillaha said.

"Sadly, I think that people are struggling, and they want the contact with other people and the closeness that they feel when they're together, to want that human interaction, and it's very difficult right now to have all that and not spread covid-19."

The number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 rose by nine, to 468, as 43 covid-19 patients were newly admitted to hospitals.

The virus patients in the hospital on Wednesday included 90 who were on ventilators, up from 88 a day earlier.

The number of patients who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 rose to 5,098, while the number who have ever been on a ventilator rose by two, to 640.

The state's cumulative count of coronavirus cases rose to 77,963, with 75,646 confirmed cases and 2,317 probable ones.

Despite the different classifications, the Health Department has said it treats confirmed and probable cases the same for the purposes of its contact-tracing efforts.

The categories are mutually exclusive: People initially classified as probable cases become confirmed cases if after a positive PCR test.

The number of probable and confirmed cases that were considered active rose 194, to 6,777, as 768 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.

After a spike of 1,078 cases that were added on Saturday, the count of confirmed and probable cases grew by smaller amounts earlier this week: 563 on Sunday, 641 on Monday and 617 on Tuesday.

[Interactive Arkansas map not showing up above? Click here to see it: arkansasonline.com/arvirus]

GATHERINGS CITED

With Wednesday's increase, the average number of confirmed or probable cases added to the state's count each day over a rolling seven-day period rose to 821.

That was the largest average daily growth in cases over seven days since the Health Department began publicly reporting information on probable cases on Sept. 2.

Despite the uptick, the number of active cases and people hospitalized with covid-19 remained below the levels of early August.

Dillaha said Labor Day gatherings may be contributing to the virus's spread as people who became infected over the holiday weekend pass the virus on to others.

She said transmission appears to be happening throughout the state, although northeast Arkansas has had a noticeable uptick.

"We haven't previously had very high growth in northeast Arkansas, so it may be that they just haven't had the community pressure to address those types of changes that are needed" to limit transmission of the virus, she said.

She said the department learns about possible places where people became infected through its interviews with people who test positive.

"If it's a group like a church, we try to reach out to the leadership and let them know what's going on and help them to be aware of the situation so they can take action to reduce the risk of transmission," she said.

A recent increase in the number of Arkansans getting tested could also be contributing to the growth in cases, she said.

"We're getting more timely [results from] tests, so more people are feeling like if they went and got tested they would get a timely result, so I think that's encouraging," Dillaha said.

That's because identifying people who are infected allows the department to direct them to isolate themselves and to tell those they may have infected to go into quarantine, with a goal of preventing more people from catching the virus.

"Hopefully we're catching more cases that are out there than we would have the past, and maybe this will help us turn this situation around," Dillaha said.

Arkansas' average daily increase of 821 cases over seven days translated to a rate of 27 cases per 100,000 residents.

According to data from The Covid Tracking Project, that was the sixth-highest rate among the states and Washington, D.C.

With an average daily increase of 50 cases per 100,000 residents, North Dakota had the highest rate, followed by South Dakota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah.

Arkansas as of Wednesday had the ninth-highest number of cumulative cases per capita since the start of the pandemic and the 24th-highest number of deaths per capita, according to the data.

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PRISON OUTBREAKS

The Health Department's count of confirmed or probable virus cases rose Wednesday by 83 in Craighead County, 77 in Pulaski County, 75 in Washington County, 64 in Benton County, 55 in Faulkner County, 54 in Jefferson County, 51 in Sebastian County and 50 in Lonoke County.

The state's count of cases among prison and jail inmates rose by 26. Such increases can reflect new cases or ones that were added earlier but not immediately classified as coming from a jail or prison.

Cases among inmates are also sometimes added several days after a test is conducted, after information from laboratory reports is entered into a state database.

From Monday to Tuesday, the number of cases among inmates increased by 81, to 177, at the the state Department of Corrections' Pine Bluff Unit; by 42, to 546, at the Varner Unit in Lincoln County; and by 22, to 162, at the Benton Unit, according to Health Department reports.

At the North Central Unit in Calico Rock, the number of cases among inmates that were listed in the reports increased from three, to 45.

Corrections Department Secretary Solomon Graves said Tuesday that inmates are taken from county jails in "cohorts" of 48 to the Division of Correction's intake unit at the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern, where they are kept in quarantine for 14 days and are tested three times.

Inmates are also tested before their release on parole; when they develop symptoms; or after being exposed to someone with the virus, he said.

He said the number of active cases among inmates had fallen from a high of 1,001 in late July to 379 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Seven inmates with covid-19 were being treated at hospitals outside the prison system, including two who were on ventilators, he said.

On Wednesday, a prisoner from the Pine Bluff Unit who was being treated at Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock became the state's 40th inmate to die of the virus, the Corrections Department announced.

The inmate was in his mid-80s and serving a 10-year sentence for internet stalking of a child, the department said.







[Interactive tables not showing up above? Click here to see them: arkansasonline.com/schools]

INSTRUCTIONAL SHIFTS

Also on Wednesday, Principal James Castleberry announced that Parkview High School will shift to remote teaching and learning today, with no on-campus instruction, in response to covid-19 concerns.

"This week, we have had several students test positive for the covid virus," Castleberry said in an email to parents and the community.

"In addition, we have had to quarantine two staff and a number of students based on close contact with their peers. [The Little Rock School District] is working with the Arkansas Department of Health and LRSD's Point of Contact team to continue efforts on contact tracing and will utilize this time to deep clean and disinfect the building."

Teachers will work from home, he said. All classified employees and staff members who are not teachers are to report to work today and Friday, unless under quarantine.

The school will be closed to extracurricular activities and games through at least Sunday. Superintendent Mike Poore will announce a decision by then on the plan for instructional delivery next week.

Parkview joins Dunbar Middle School and Southwest High as district schools that have had to close to on-site instruction for one or more days this school year.

Other schools in the Little Rock district have had grades shift temporarily to virtual instruction -- but not the entire school.

The Parkview announcement came on a day in which the Little Rock district reported that six covid-19 cases had been identified among students in the 24-hour period ending at 3 p.m. Wednesday and that 14 other students or employees had been directed to quarantine.

The cases included one student at Parkview, one at Gibbs Elementary and four at Southwest High School.

Those required to quarantine were five students at Gibbs; four at Parkview; one student each at Central and Southwest High; and one employee each at Parkview, Gibbs and Southwest.

In Searcy, seventh and eighth graders at Ahlf Junior High School shifted to virtual instruction Wednesday after more than a dozen teachers and staff members, and multiple students, had to be quarantined as the result of exposure to covid-19.

The school has an enrollment of about 600 seventh and eighth graders.

Lessons for those grades will be delivered virtually through Google Classroom for the remainder of the week.

After deep cleaning and sanitizing, the staff will return to the building today. Students will return to campus on Monday, according to the Searcy School District's website.

The eighth grade football game scheduled for today against Russellville has been canceled. Additionally, the eighth grade Ahlf band will not play at the ninth grade Cubs game.

On Tuesday, Searcy High School had to shift to virtual instruction because of a water leak that closed the school campus for a single day.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District reported Wednesday that a pupil at Dupree Elementary School had tested positive for the virus.

Nine students and five employees at the school have been quarantined, Superintendent Bryan Duffie said in an email.

COLLEGE CASES

People age 18-24 made up 164, or about 17%, of the confirmed or probable cases added to the statewide total on Wednesday.

That was lower than the percentage on some other days this month but still a disproportionate contribution from a group that makes up less than 10% of the state's population.

At the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the number of cases among people who have been on campus at some point since Aug. 1 rose by 18, to 1,591, from Monday to Tuesday, the university reported on its website.

It reported having 115 active cases, including 110 among students and five among staff members.

That was down from 127 active that the university reported on its website on Monday and from more than 900 earlier this month.

"Our campus was asked to batten down the hatches, and I'm pleased that you have responded accordingly – though, again, we must continue to be vigilant," Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said in a letter to campus, dated Tuesday, in which he encouraged Razorbacks fans to follow public health guidelines at the UA football team's game in Fayetteville against the University of Georgia on Saturday. "In no way are we out of the woods yet."

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro reported having 97 active cases, down from 120 on Friday.

During the week that ended Tuesday, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway reported that 43 students and employees had tested positive on campus or at Conway Regional Medical Center, bringing the total number of such cases to 158.

LATEST DEATHS

According to the Health Department, Pulaski County had 700 cases that were active as of Wednesday.

That was the highest total among the state's 75 counties, followed by the 530 cases that were active in Washington County, 495 in Jefferson County, 409 in Benton County, 362 in Craighead County and 339 in Faulkner County.

The virus deaths that were added to the state's count included six in Pulaski County and one each in Washington, Jefferson, Sebastian, Boone, Independence, St. Francis, White, Baxter, Poinsett, Arkansas, Union, Chicot, Dallas and Searcy counties.

Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said two deaths occurred in late August and two happened earlier this month but weren't immediately reported.

The state's count of virus deaths increased by one, to 22, among Arkansans age 25-34; by two, to 82, among those age 45-54; by three, to 191, among those age 55-64; and by 14, to 896, among those age 65 and older.

Among nursing home residents, the state's count of virus deaths rose by seven, to 388.

CDC STUDY

Even before most college students began returning to campuses across the country, young adults had an outsize role in spreading the virus, according to a study published Wednesday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The study, by a team of CDC researchers, found that from June through August, people age 20-29 nationwide had a higher rate of confirmed infections than other age groups and likely spread the virus to older people, who are at greater risk for serious complications.

The study found the median age of confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide fell from 46 in May to 37 in July and 38 in August.

"During June-August, incidence was highest among persons aged 20-29 years, who accounted for the largest proportion of total cases," the researchers found.

In the South, they found, increases in the percentage of coronavirus tests that were positive among people age 20-39 preceded increases in the positive test rate among people age 60 or older by four to 15 days, "suggesting that younger adults likely contributed to the community transmission of COVID-19."

"Increased prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection among younger adults likely contributes to community transmission of COVID-19, including to persons at higher risk for severe illness, such as older adults," the researchers wrote.

Younger adults, they wrote, "make up a large proportion of workers in frontline occupations (e.g., retail stores, public transit, child care, and social services) and highly exposed industries (e.g., restaurants/bars, entertainment, and personal services), where consistent implementation of prevention strategies might be difficult or not possible.

"In addition, younger adults might also be less likely to follow community mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and avoiding group gatherings."

The researchers noted that young people "are more likely to have mild or no symptoms" and can "unknowingly contribute to presymptomatic or asymptomatic transmission to others."

The researchers recommended steps such as having "age-appropriate prevention messages," putting restrictions on gatherings, encouraging the use of masks and social distancing, "implementing safe practices" at bars and restaurants and "enforcing protection measures for essential and service industry workers."

Coronavirus daily updates and cumulative covid-19 cases in Arkansas
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