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State virus spread, pace of shots wane

Covid-19 hospitalizations climb by 14 by Andy Davis | May 28, 2021 at 7:07 a.m.
Barbara McDonald, an advanced practice registered nurse for UAMS, begins to screen patients Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 during a drive-thru covid-19 testing at the Lonoke Community Center. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

The spread of the coronavirus in Arkansas continued to show signs of slowing Thursday even as the number of people hospitalized with the virus jumped by 14.

The pace of vaccinations also continued trending downward, with the average number of doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period dropping below 8,000 for the first time since Feb. 23.

The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by two, to 5,829.

"The number of fully immunized people in Arkansas rose by 4,199 yesterday, and 7,860 more people were vaccinated," Gov. Asa Hutchinson, citing Health Department figures, said in a tweet Thursday.

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

"I think everyday about what more we can do to encourage and incentivize vaccines, but it is really up to each individual. Let's keep encouraging each other."

The 218 cases that were added to the state's tallies, while larger than the increase on Wednesday, was the second daily increase in a row that was smaller than the one a week earlier.

The average number of cases added to the state's tallies over a rolling seven-day period fell to 179, the first time since late April that it dropped below 180.

After falling by 11 Wednesday, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 rose Thursday to 203, tying with May 20 for its highest level in more than two months.

"We don't really have a good explanation" for the uptick in hospitalizations, state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said.

She said it could stem from cases caused by the coronavirus variant from the United Kingdom, which tends to cause serious illness more often than the original strain.

[VACCINE INFO: See the latest information on covid-19 vaccines in Arkansas » arkansasonline.com/vaccineinfo/]

Also she said an increasing number of infections may be going undiagnosed, making the case numbers look smaller than they would otherwise in comparison to the number of hospitalizations.

"It could be some of both," she said.

She said the state's case numbers are "staying reasonably low, considering our current proportion of the population that's not yet vaccinated."

"I'm hoping that it will give us the time that we need to get a higher proportion vaccinated and prevent a surge if we were to have one, later in the summer or in the fall," she said.

[How is the coronavirus affecting you in Arkansas? Tell us here » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus/form/]

The number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators fell for the third day in a row, going from 33 Wednesday to 31.

The additional vaccine doses that had been administered, including second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, were more than 3,500 fewer than those given the previous Thursday.

As a result, the average number of doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period fell by more than 500, to 7,669.

LIBRARY CLINICS

Dillaha said the Health Department has worked with food pantries and other social services organizations to vaccinate people less likely to visit health care providers to get the shots.

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

A section of the department that licenses ambulance workers has also been vaccinating people at adult day care centers, she said.

Little Rock-based Baptist Health announced this week that it will administer the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine next month at six libraries within the Central Arkansas Library System.

The clinics, each of which will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon, will be :

• Tuesday at the Sue Cowan Williams Library in Little Rock.

• June 9 at the Main Library in Little Rock.

• June 14 at the Sidney S. McMath Library in Little Rock.

• June 16 at the Esther DeWitt Nixon Library in Jacksonville.

• June 21 at Dee Brown Library in Little Rock.

• June 23 at Oley E. Rooker Library in Little Rock.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people in Arkansas who had received at least one vaccine dose rose Thursday by 4,295, to 1,179,098, representing about 39.1% of the state's population.

The number who had been fully vaccinated rose by 5,051, to 925,698, or about 30.7% of the population.

[EMAIL SIGNUP: Form not appearing above? Click here to subscribe to updates on the coronavirus » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus/email/]

Among the states and District of Columbia, Arkansas continued to rank 44th in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one vaccine dose and 49th, ahead of only Alabama and Mississippi, in the percentage who had been fully vaccinated.

ACTIVE CASES RISE

The cases that were added to the state's tallies Thursday included 172 that were confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests.

The other 46 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through less sensitive antigen tests.

The state's cumulative count of cases rose to 340,916.

That comprised 266,394 confirmed cases and 74,522 probable ones.

The number of cases that were considered active rose by 33, to 2,008, as new cases outpaced recoveries.

Faulkner County had the most new cases, 22, followed by Pulaski County with 21, and Washington County with 14.

Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department's count of cases rose by one.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Cindy Murphy said the Omega Supervision Sanction Center in Malvern had 16 new cases, all among inmates who had recently arrived at the lockup.

The Ouachita River Unit, also in Malvern, had two new cases. The prison also had six other cases that were active among inmates who tested positive earlier, she said.

The state's death toll rose by two, to 4,625, among confirmed cases and remained at 1,204 among probable cases.

Among nursing home and assisted living facility residents, the state's count of virus deaths rose by one, to 2,091.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 grew by 29, to 16,293.

The number of the state's virus patients who have ever been on ventilators with covid-19 rose by three, to 1,661.

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