Arkansas' covid-19 cases passed the 500,000 mark Thursday, only two months after they reached 400,000 on Aug. 6.
Another 893 cases were added Thursday, bringing the cumulative total to 500,779.
"The good news is that cases continue to decline, but winter is coming," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on social media. "Don't let cold weather reverse our progress. Be prepared by getting vaccinated."
Danyelle McNeill, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Health, said breaking half a million cases was not unexpected.
"Although it has been difficult to predict, the current number of cases is not surprising, especially with the spread of variants and lower vaccination rates," she said.
The total number represents one in six Arkansans. The state has about 3 million people.
The state's first covid-19 case was diagnosed on March 11, 2020. It took more than seven months for the number to reach 100,000, on Oct. 20, 2020. Two months after that, the total topped 200,000 on Dec. 19 and 300,000 a month and a half after that.
The cases peaked in January and then the state's daily cases increases plummeted, dropping to a rolling seven-day average of 134 the week ending June 1, but it wasn't long after that the cases began to rise when the highly transmissible delta variant that first emerged in India arrived in Arkansas.
In the past week, the state has seen seven straight days of three-digit increases in cases.
It's important for Arkansans to get vaccinated, continue to practice social distancing, wash their hands and wear masks, McNeill said.
"We are doing better in recent months, but can improve our vaccination rates," McNeill said in an email. "We encourage people to speak with trusted medical professionals to learn more about the safety and efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19."
The number of vaccine doses that providers reported having administered, including second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, rose by 10,525, to 2,967,629.
Children under 12 can't be immunized under current federal authorization.
The number of individuals fully immunized increased by 2,898, to a total of 1,354,611 or 53% of that age range.
As of Thursday, 64,874 third vaccine doses had been administered.
The Health Department does not base its percentage vaccinated on the state's total population, but on the total population of those 12 and older, which the department said is 2,557,248.
The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 21 to 7,802.
The number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 189 to 7,690.
The number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 continue to decline, dropping by 31 to 593. The number of virus patients who were on ventilators remained at 173 and the number in intensive care increased by one to 280.
Total hospital beds in the state -- whether filled or vacant -- fell by seven, going from 8,974 on Wednesday to 8,967 on Thursday, according to Health Department data.
Available beds fell by 22, to 2,094, meaning about 76.6% of the state's hospital beds are full.
The total of intensive care beds, filled or vacant, remained the same at 1,197. The number of available ICU beds fell by 10 to 93, which means that more than 92% of the special-care beds were full.
The Baptist Health System had 160 covid-19 patients across the state. Of that total, 80 are in ICU and 55 are on ventilators, spokesman Brandon Riddle said.
"Baptist Health has seen fewer COVID-19 patients across our hospitals in recent days and we are hopeful that this trend will continue," Riddle said in an email. "While hospitalizations have decreased both at our hospitals and statewide, our healthcare workers continue to feel the strain of working tirelessly to respond to the most recent surge in cases."
St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro has experienced significant relief in the number of covid-19 patients, spokesman Mitchell Nail said. On Thursday, the hospital had 38 covid-19 patients, including 12 in ICU and five on ventilators.
"Yesterday was our first day in months where we had zero covid admissions and we're thankful," Nail said. "We must maintain vigilance with this virus. Vaccination rates have improved, and many individuals have received third doses or booster doses, but we still have much ground to cover."
Nail estimated that about 40% of the population wears masks regularly.
"Those numbers understandably dip as hospitalization numbers decline," Nail said. "But as they do, we should expect more covid transmissions as well as exposures to other viruses. We don't want to see a third hospitalization wave that resembles the previous two."
Bonnie Ward, spokeswoman for CHI St. Vincent, said in an email that as covid cases in the state continue to decline, their health care staff "are breathing a tentative sigh of relief, but would prefer to see the numbers even lower with the holiday season" approaching.
"Our ministry is advising the communities we serve to remain vigilant in order to protect themselves and those around them while slowing the spread of the virus," Ward said. "CHI St. Vincent continues to strongly encourage members of the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Other protective measures like wearing a mask around other people, washing hands regularly and practicing appropriate and thoughtful social distancing can also help slow the spread of the virus."
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said the pressure has "let up some" with the decline in covid-19 patients. The medical center had 14 covid-19 patients, with eight in intensive care and six on ventilators.
"We are still extremely busy but not having as many covid patients has helped tremendously with staffing in the hospital," Taylor said. "One of our biggest challenges right now is with openings in support services including housekeeping and nutrition services."
There were 8,219 covid-19 tests reported Thursday, comprising 6,863 PCR and 1,356 antigen tests.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been a total of 5,048,036 tests reported. Of that number, 523,679 were positive for covid-19, according to Health Department data.
Health Department data indicated that Mississippi County had the largest increase in total cases, with the count rising by 67.
Benton County had the next-largest increase, 64, followed by Washington County with 60.
The number of active covid-19 cases among students and employees in Arkansas public schools was 1,565 on Thursday, a decline of 103 from the 1,668 cases reported Monday by the Department of Health.
The smaller number of new cases is in a report that also shows that the cumulative number of cases in the schools -- dating back to Aug. 1 -- has topped 20,000 for the first time. The state agency report showed that 20,590 students and employees in public kindergarten through 12th grade schools have had covid-19 since Aug. 1.
The number of active cases in public schools Thursday was down from an all-time high of 4,833 on Sept. 6. Health Department reports released twice a week have shown the number steadily declining since that early September date.
On Thursday, as it has in recent weeks, the Springdale School District had the highest number of active cases -- 70, which was an increase from the 65 reported for the district on Monday. Springdale has the largest student enrollment in the state.
The Rogers School District followed with 48 active cases reported on Thursday; the Fort Smith district had 45 cases, Bentonville had 39 cases and Pulaski County Special School District had 37 cases, according to the state.
The Cabot and Paragould districts each had 35 cases, and the Little Rock School District -- the state's second largest system -- had 33 cases, which was up from the 27 cases in Monday's report.
In all, 101 Arkansas school districts had five or more active cases, down from 102 districts in the Department of Health's report on Monday. The state doesn't identify individual school districts with fewer than five cases in an effort to protect patient privacy, but the cases from those districts are included in the totals.
The Health Department also reports twice a week on active and cumulative cases among students and employees in the private schools and at the colleges and universities.
There were 48 active covid-19 cases among students and staff in private kindergarten- through 12th grade schools. However, no private schools were identified as having five or more active cases.
There were 186 cases in the state's colleges and universities, with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, reporting the most -- 45. That was followed by Arkansas Tech University with 15 cases, according to the state report.