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story.lead_photo.caption A nurse conducts a coronavirus test in August at the UAMS drive-thru screening site in Little Rock. More photos at arkansasonline.com/819test/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford) ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Stephen Swofford)

Continuing a downward trend, the number of active covid-19 cases in the state reached a low of 4,899 on Monday - the first time since the virus hit the state in March that more Arkansans have died from the disease than currently have it.

Deaths from the virus rose by six to 5,363.

Another 245 new cases were added Monday, bringing the cumulative total to 315,759.

"New and active cases continue to remain lower than we've seen in the past few weeks," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a news release. "We're distributing vaccine doses throughout the state and encourage those who are eligible to make sure they're signed up. We expect vaccine and testing numbers to increase this week with clear roads across the state."

The number of people hospitalized with covid-19 in Arkansas rose by 11 to 588.

Monday morning, state epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield president and chief executive officer Curtis Barnett announced at a called press conference a new initiative to educate Arkansans about the covid-19 vaccines and encourage individuals to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

"'Vaccinate the Natural State' will address the misinformation that has left many hesitant, or unsure how or when they can be vaccinated," Dillaha said. "We want Arkansans to understand that the vaccine is the safest, most effective way to protect themselves and their communities. We are appreciative that Arkansas Blue Cross stepped forward to help the state during the earliest rounds of the vaccinations and now has convened these organizations to create a movement that will have a lasting effect on our state.”

The "Vaccinate the Natural State" initiative teams up the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield with numerous other business and social entities, including the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, Arkansas Minority Health Commission, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Council, UAMS and Walmart.

The way out of the pandemic is to vaccinate every eligible Arkansan as soon as the vaccine becomes available to them, Barnett said at the news conference.

"Vaccinations offer our best path for eliminating the virus, ending the suffering, and starting the process of returning our lives back to some sense of normal," Barnett said. "The organizations that have come together to fuel this movement represent best-of-class knowledge coupled with connected networks that can ensure the word gets out that Vaccinate the Natural State can be life-changing for all of us."

Read Tuesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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