The number of new covid-19 cases in the state going into the Thanksgiving holiday is about a third of what it was a year ago, according to Health Department data.
Another 694 cases were added Wednesday, compared with 1,965 cases added the day before the holiday last year -- a 1,271 difference -- which occurred before vaccines against the virus were available.
"A small increase in active cases today, but just over 14,000 more vaccinations were given out over the last 24 hours," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on social media Wednesday afternoon. "This is great news as we continue to fight this virus into the holiday season. Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!"
Since last year's holiday, the state has added 373,727 to the cumulative total of 525,824 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began with the first case in March 2020.
While 3,375,060 doses of the vaccine have been administered to Arkansans ages 5 and up as of Wednesday, Hutchinson and Health Department officials are still concerned about a post-holiday surge.
Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said the increase in numbers in recent weeks is concerning.
"The number of active cases and hospitalizations are currently lower this year compared to where they were this time last year. However, we appear to be earlier in the beginning of a new surge this year, as opposed to being in the middle of an ongoing surge as we were at this time last year," McNeill said. "It is hard to predict how high the current surge will go."
But this year, covid-19 vaccinations are available to everyone 5 years of age and older, "which may work in our favor to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, if we are able to increase our vaccination rates," McNeill said.
At a media briefing earlier this week, Hutchinson urged everyone to be mindful that the virus is still in the state and to get vaccinated.
McNeill said the Health Department is encouraging people -- especially the unvaccinated -- to wear masks when in settings where people who are at increased risk for severe disease may be present.
"People should also practice social distancing and good hand hygiene," McNeill said. "Social gatherings should be held in locations with good ventilation -- outdoors if weather permits. People should stay home if they are sick."
The number of individuals fully immunized increased by 2,492, to a total of 1,435,957, or 50.5% of Arkansans 5 years old and up.
As of Friday, 277,443 third vaccine doses had been administered.
Of the new cases reported Wednesday, 86% involved unvaccinated people while 88% of those hospitalized had not received the shots. About 78.6% of the active cases and 86% of the deaths involved unvaccinated people.
As of Wednesday, at least 20,971 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5-11 had been administered since Nov. 3 after the pediatric vaccine was given the green light by federal authorities, McNeill said.
Requests for the pediatric covid-19 vaccinations are steady, but the numbers are lagging behind the vaccinations for the 12-15 age group, she added.
"We anticipate numbers for the pediatric vaccine will improve over time, as parents gain confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine," McNeill said.
The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, said Wednesday afternoon that the state has at least a two-week supply of the pediatric vaccine.
"And we plan to order more whenever possible," she said.
There have been 101,995 Arkansas children from birth to 18 years old who were diagnosed with covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to the state Health Department.
Of those cases, 933 children were hospitalized with covid-19, and 119 were admitted to intensive care.
The state has reported 4,285 cases in children under a year old; 12,045 cases in children 1-4 years old; 33,192 cases in children 5-11 years old; and 52,473 cases in children 12-18 years old.
About 96% of patients ages 12-18 were unvaccinated. About 9.8% of the 12- to 18-year-old population in Arkansas is partially vaccinated, while 42.1% is fully vaccinated.
On Wednesday, the state had 1,644 active cases among patients from newborn to 18 years old.
The number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 dipped by one, to 344, while the number of virus patients who were on ventilators jumped by six to 66.
There were 150 covid patients in intensive care units Wednesday, 10 more than the day before.
Mitchell Nail, spokesman for St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, said the number of covid patients Wednesday had crept to its highest point in more than a month.
"We currently have 30 patients hospitalized from the virus, including 13 in the ICU and three on the vent," Nail said. "The ICU number is the most concerning statistic right now. We hit a low point of four patients two weeks ago, and it has slowly risen since."
Hospitals always prepare for increased infections after the holidays, Nail said.
"All viruses thrive with people traveling across state lines and gathering indoors. While we expect additional hospitalizations, we also anticipate widespread covid vaccine availability helping us fight a potential third wave," Nail said. "We always encourage people to avoid gatherings if they feel sick, even with family. As always, if people get sick on the holidays, they should visit local emergency departments if they need emergent care or urgent cares for general illnesses."
Chris Durney, a spokesman for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, said that as of Wednesday there were only four covid-19 patients being treated at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock.
"We are remaining vigilant and looking closely at the numbers every day. We hope people are cautious and considerate throughout the holidays, especially to our vulnerable populations," Durney said. "We highly recommend vaccination, booster shots, social distancing, and staying home if you are sick. We are thankful for every veteran we serve and encourage all veterans to take advantage of their VA benefits."
Baptist Health is prepared for any increase in covid-19 patients through the winter months, communications associate Matt Dishongh said.
"While we hope there is not another major surge in the pandemic, we are more than prepared and have the experience from already going through two surges," Dishongh said.
There were 5,816 newly reported covid-19 tests, comprising 4,707 PCR and 1,109 antigen tests.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 5,449,696 tests have been reported. Of that number, 549,959 were positive for covid-19, according to Health Department data.
Health Department data indicates that Pulaski County had the largest increase in total cases, with the count rising by 85.
The next-highest increase was Benton County with 76, then Washington County with 42.