New and active covid-19 cases were down significantly on Monday from the same time a week ago, while hospitalizations rose, according to Arkansas Department of Health data.
"Active cases are down 607 from this time last week, but hospitalizations have been rising," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on social media Monday afternoon. "Let's continue to push our vaccinations, and tomorrow we will discuss the new Omicron variant at the news briefing."
Another 207 cases of the coronavirus were reported Monday, raising the cumulative total to 527,794, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. The number was 63 cases lower than the 270 reported on the same day last week. Case reports typically slow down on weekends, especially near holidays.
The number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 465 to 5,364, meaning more people have recovered from the disease than have been diagnosed with it. The number on Monday was 607 fewer than the previous Monday.
The number of patients hospitalized with the virus rose by 27 to 390 -- 57 more than a week ago.
The state's death toll from the virus since the first case in March 2020, as tracked by the Health Department, rose by two, to 8,655.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the state's chief medical officer, said she is "very concerned" about the omicron variant coming to Arkansas.
"It appears to be more infectious than the Delta variant," Dillaha said. "However, whether or not it is truly more infectious will need to be confirmed."
In a recent CNN interview, Hutchinson acknowledged the delta variant has been tough on the state and a new variant would not be welcomed. But with the state's vaccination rate, the Republican governor said he's more optimistic about getting through this winter compared to last year.
Hutchinson also encouraged vaccination, but pushed back against the idea of vaccine mandates.
"You have to know the culture, you have to know how people respond to it. And in Arkansas, that information-based education is what is working and will be effective," he said. "The mandates are not something that the people of Arkansas are going to respond well to."
As of late Monday, there were no cases of the new variant reported in the U.S. The omicron variant of the virus was first reported Wednesday in South Africa.
Scientists have said that omicron has more than 30 mutations in the genes that code for the spike protein, which the virus uses to latch on to human cells.
Dillaha said the Health Department has been testing regularly for the omicron variant.
"We regularly sequence a number of samples from Arkansas, and so far, of all the samples we have sequenced, the omicron variant has not been identified," she said.
Dillaha said the number of mutations in omicron outnumbers those of the highly contagious delta variant, but she is unsure of how much more contagious the new variant is.
"There is still a lot to learn about the omicron variant and how it may be different or similar to the delta variant," she said.
Arkansas should take steps to become "as immune as possible" from the variant by getting fully vaccinated, including booster doses, and continue to wear a mask and practicing social distancing when visiting indoor public places, Dillaha said.
"We are already sequencing samples, and if it is here, eventually, we will identify it as part of our routine sequencing process," she said. "If there are high risk individuals, for example, people who have traveled from Africa that are positive for covid-19, then we will place a priority on sequencing their samples."
Along with the rise in hospital numbers on Monday, the number of covid-19 patients requiring intensive care rose by three to 170.
The number of virus patients who were on ventilators dropped by two to 65.
Arkansas Children's Hospital was caring for four covid-19 patients across its system with three in the intensive care unit and two on ventilators, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said in an email.
"We have plenty of capacity for COVID patients and typical seasonal illness increases alike," she said.
There have been 102,393 Arkansas children from birth to 18 years old who were diagnosed with covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to the Health Department.
Of those cases, 939 children were hospitalized with covid-19, and 119 were admitted to intensive care.
The state has reported 4,321 cases in children under a year old; 12,116 cases in children 1-4 years old; 33,344 cases in children 5-11 years old; and 52,612 cases in children 12-18 years old.
About 95.9% of patients ages 12-18 were unvaccinated. About 9.8% of the 12- to 18-year-old population in Arkansas is partially vaccinated, while 42.3% is fully vaccinated.
On Monday, the state had 1,225 active cases among patients from newborn to 18 years old.
The number of vaccine doses that providers reported having administered, including second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, rose by 2,618 to 3,398,672.
The number of individuals fully immunized increased by 699, to a total of 1,440,541, or 50.6% of Arkansans 5 years old and up. The number of Arkansans partially immunized against the virus increased by 236, to 325,775, or 11.5% of the population 5 years old and up.
As of Monday, 288,212 third vaccine doses had been administered.
Dillaha said that as of Monday, there were 23,258 Arkansas children, ages 5-11 who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine since it became available on Nov. 3.
With an estimated population of 217,000 in that age group, that means that nearly 11% of Arkansas children 5-11 have been vaccinated.
DeMillo said that the hospital system continues to see steady interest in the pediatric vaccine, with families signing up for the public clinics as soon as they are announced. So far, the hospital system has administered 1,112 vaccine doses to the 5-11 age group.
"We offer the vaccine in our primary care clinics daily and talk with families about their decision to vaccinate," DeMillo said. "We want to hear families' concerns and address them with factual information."
Arkansas Children's is holding a vaccination clinic Wednesday at the Little Rock hospital.
"We are also administering second doses to children who took their first vaccine the week the immunizations for ages 5-11 rolled out," DeMillo said.
Families can look for vaccine clinic dates at archildrens.org/getmyvaccine.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children's also offer pediatric covid-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 at the UAMS Vaccine Clinic at 401 S. Monroe St. in Little Rock. The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
There were 2,583 newly reported covid-19 tests, comprising 2,257 PCR and 326 antigen tests.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 5,472,295 tests have been reported. Of that number, 551,908 were positive for covid-19, according to Health Department data.
Health Department data indicates that Pulaski County had the largest increase in cases reported Monday, with the count rising by 22.
The next-highest increase was Washington County with 19, then Benton County, with 17.