Saying he wanted to avoid a repeat of last year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged Arkansans to take steps to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus during holiday gatherings this week.
"The precautions that I ask everyone to take as you get ready for Thanksgiving are simply to be mindful that covid is still in our communities," Hutchinson said.
"Protect yourself by getting vaccinated. If you haven’t got your booster shot, get a booster shot.
"And of course if people in your gathering are not vaccinated, then just be mindful of that and socially distance or protect yourself as need be so we don’t have an increase in the spread of covid during this wonderful time of the year."
Hutchinson spoke as the state's count of coronavirus cases rose by 690, the first daily increase in 11 days that was significantly lower than the one a week earlier.
The number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19, however, jumped by 12, to 345, its highest level since Oct. 29.
The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by seven, to 8,627.
At his weekly news conference at the state Capitol, Hutchinson noted that, compared to a week earlier, the state's active case total was up by 900, and the number hospitalized with the virus was up by 69.
"That alone should tell you that we’ve got to be very cautious and wise in order not to have a surge like we did last winter, and I think we can avoid that with our increased vaccination rate."
After falling the previous two days, the active case total rose Tuesday by 108, to 6,079, which was still down from a recent high of 6,390 the total reached Saturday.
Hutchinson urged people who have recovered from infections to get vaccinated, saying studies show that natural immunity from an infection is not as strong as the protection offered by the vaccines.
Health Secretary Jose Romero said the lower number of new cases on Tuesday compared to a week earlier was likely due to a reduction in testing as people prepare for the holiday.
For gatherings in which people who are not fully vaccinated will be in attendance, he suggested precautions including limiting guests to immediate family members, having dinner outside, keeping guests spaced apart and keeping indoor spaces well-ventilated.
People who are not fully vaccinated should wear masks, he said.
Before attending a gathering, he said, people may want to test themselves for the virus, such as by using an in-home testing kit, if they have not been vaccinated, have symptoms or will be visiting elderly relatives.
Romero also urged vaccinations for pregnant women, who he said are an increased risk for severe complications from covid-19, and children age 5-11, who he said make up about a quarter of the state's new cases.
He also urged people to get the flu shot, saying he expects the current flu season to be worse than the previous two seasons.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson will provide his weekly media update at 1:30 p.m.
Check back to watch the live video.