Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose by more than 2,000 on Tuesday for just the second time in a single day since February, while the number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 topped 1,000 for the first time since January.
Also for the first time since January, the number of virus patients on ventilators jumped above 200.
The state death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 10, to 6,087.
In a tweet, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he planned to meet today with a task force of hospital executives, Health Department officials and others to discuss ways to increase hospital capacity.
"Vaccines are the best antidote for our increasing numbers; the best antidote for fear is counsel from a trustworthy adviser," Hutchinson said.
The 2,052 cases added in the state was the largest new case total in a single day since Feb. 4.
The last time the count rose by more than 2,000 was a spike of 2,015 cases on Saturday.
The number of virus patients in state hospitals jumped by 45, to 1,025, its highest level since Jan. 27.
It was the 22nd daily increase in the number in a row.
The number of covid-19 patients on ventilators leapt by 33, to 205, its highest level since Jan. 20.
The breathing-machine increase Tuesday, as tracked in the Health Department's daily updates, was the largest in a single day since the state's first case was diagnosed in March 2020.
Previously, the largest increase was on Nov. 25, when the number rose by 31.
The number of covid-19 patients in intensive care grew Tuesday by 27, to 387, its highest level since Jan. 20.
Just 39, or about 3%, of the state's 1,172 intensive-care beds were unoccupied.
After dipping Monday, the number of state cases considered active rose by 864, to 15,491, its highest level since Feb. 7, as new cases outpaced recoveries.
The average daily increase in the state case count over a rolling seven-day period rose to 1,574, its highest level since the week ending Feb. 7.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rankings on Tuesday showed Arkansas trailing only Louisiana and Florida in its number of new cases per capita during the week ending Monday.
Arkansas' 10,839 cases during the week translated to a rate of 359.2 per 100,000 residents.
The rate was 441 per 100,000 residents in Louisiana and 407.3 per 100,000 in Florida.
In deaths per capita, Arkansas' rate was the second-highest, behind Nevada.
Arkansas' 70 deaths during the week amounted to 2.3 per 100,000 residents. Nevada's rate was 2.9 per 100,000.
Rising at an average of 30 a day over the past week, the number of patients in state hospitals was approaching the heights it reached during the winter surge in coronavirus cases.
As tracked in numbers reported each day by the state Health Department, the number of covid-19 patients in hospitals first topped 1,000 on Nov. 25, then reached an all-time high of 1,371 on Jan. 11.
The number fell to as low as 141 in early April, then began creeping back up.
Over the past several weeks, the increase has been more rapid, with the number more than doubling over the past 18 days.
The number of covid-19 patients at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock and Arkansas Children's Northwest in Springdale set a new high on Tuesday as it rose by eight, to 24.
"This record high is a 50 percent increase over any previous daily hospitalization peak Arkansas Children's has faced during the pandemic," Rick Barr, chief clinical officer at Arkansas Children's, said in a statement.
"Our previous peaks occurred earlier this month and in January."
He said seven of the patients were in intensive care and four were on ventilators.
"None of the hospitalized patients have been fully immunized against COVID-19 even though more than half of them are eligible," Barr said.
The Pfizer vaccine, the only one cleared in the United States to be given to children, has been authorized only for people age 12 and older.
The other vaccines, from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are allowed only for people 18 and older.
"Arkansas Children's appeals to families and the public to please vaccinate children who are eligible immediately," Barr said.
"We will continue to see more kids get sick quickly and the best ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are by taking the vaccine, masking and social distancing."
Arkansas Children's spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said two of the 24 patients were at the Springdale campus, and the others were in Little Rock.
After reaching an all-time high of 68 on Monday, the number of virus patients at UAMS Medical Center rose Tuesday to 75.
Hospital spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said 23 of the patients were in intensive care, 16 were on ventilators and five were on heart-lung bypass machines.
"We are moving ahead with opening a third covid unit, and we're looking at adding a fourth," Taylor said.
She said she expected the third unit to be opened "in the next couple days."
"It's hard on staff and our staffing capabilities, but we're doing the best that we can," she said. "A lot of our nurses and others are pulling extra shifts."
At Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, the number of covid-19 patients also set a record as it rose by 10, to 43.
Before the recent surge, the highest the number had reached was 34 on Nov. 19.
The patients on Tuesday included 10 in intensive care and nine on ventilators.
On its Facebook page, the hospital said 89.3% of the patients were not vaccinated.
It also said it had 30 employees who were isolating at home with active infections.
In response to the increase in patients, the hospital said it was limiting patients to one adult visitor per day, "effective immediately."
"The situation at Baxter Regional is critical," the hospital said in the post.
"Our ICU is full, with both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Our staff is weary, concerned for our community and desperate for this pandemic to end, but we continue to serve in extraordinary ways.
"We urge those in our community to please use precautions in large groups of people, wash your hands often, wear a mask and get vaccinated. Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic."
Arkansas' recent surge in cases followed the conversion of most Health Department directives aimed at slowing the virus's spread to nonbinding "guidance" on Feb. 26, the lifting of the statewide mask mandate on March 30, the expiration of the state's public health emergency at the end of May and the arrival of the fast-spreading delta variant that first emerged in India.
"I do think that the fact that people are not wearing masks and carrying on with activities without practicing social distancing is likely contributing to the spread," state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said.
"How we achieve those is a matter of policy, but those are things that we need to do."
Dillaha said she "wouldn't hazard a prediction" of how much longer Arkansas' cases will continue to surge.
"It does not at this point show any [sign of] slowing down, so I think we're going to have to get ready because I think it will keep going up for the time being," she said.
After saying in May that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks in most situations, the CDC on Tuesday reversed course, saying even vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public spaces in communities with substantial or high levels of transmission.
The CDC's website on Tuesday listed every county in Arkansas as having a high level of transmission, meaning it had at least 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week or that 10% or more of its polymerase chain reaction tests for the virus were positive during the week.
CDC Director Director Rochelle Walensky said the new guidance was prompted by data suggesting that, on "rare occasions," people who are fully vaccinated can be infected with the delta variant and pass it along to other people.
Dillaha said the Health Department will be reviewing its own recommendations to make sure they're consistent with the new guidance.
"It fits with what our observations are in Arkansas of the high rates of transmission and the risk that [the delta variant] poses even to people who are fully vaccinated," Dillaha said.
"We are seeing a slight increase in the proportion of cases that are breakthrough," meaning the infected person had been fully vaccinated, "and I think that the high transmission rate is contributing to that," she said.
Although the state no longer has restrictions in place to slow the spread of the virus, she said businesses and individuals can still take precautions.
"For example, businesses that were getting their employees vaccinated and then moving away from masks may decide that resuming wearing masks would be the way to go at this point in time," she said.
CASES BY COUNTY
Dillaha said all the deaths reported Tuesday happened within the past month. She said 14% of the state's coronavirus tests were positive during the seven-day span ending Monday, down slightly from the 14.1% that was initially reported for the the week ending Sunday.
Hutchinson has said he wants to keep the percentage below 10%.
Pulaski County had the most new cases, 296, followed by Benton County, which had 140, and Faulkner County, which had 129.
The state's cumulative count of cases rose to 378,023.
The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with confirmed infections rose by 151, to 18,336.
The number who have ever been on a ventilator rose by 13, to 1,861.
Meanwhile, Health Department figures continued to show an uptick in vaccinations.
At 9,572, the increase in vaccine doses that providers reported having administered, including second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, was larger by more than 2,000 than the one a week earlier.
The average number of doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period rose to 9,281, its highest level since the week ending May 14.
People receiving their first vaccine doses appeared to be continuing to drive the increase.
According to the CDC, the number of Arkansans who had received at least one vaccine dose rose Tuesday by 2,849.
That was larger by almost 1,000 than the increase a week earlier.
Already at its highest level since the week ending April 23, the average daily increase in the number of Arkansans who had received at least one dose over a rolling seven-day period rose to 6,788.
The increase on Tuesday brought the number to 1,380,254, or about 45.7% of the state's population.
The number of fully vaccinated Arkansans rose by 780, to 1,087,284, or about 36% of the state's population.
Among the states and District of Columbia, Arkansas continued to rank 43rd in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one dose and 49th, ahead of only Alabama and Mississippi, in the percentage fully vaccinated.
Nationally, 56.9% of people had received at least one dose, and 49.2% were fully vaccinated.