The number of new covid-19 cases as well as hospitalizations in Arkansas continued to slow Friday, when another 739 cases were added — 118 fewer than what was reported the same day a week ago — and hospitalized patients dropped by 30 to 563, the lowest in two months.
“The current trend continues as active cases have fallen over the past several weeks, but we continue to see hundreds of new cases each day,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on social media. “Getting vaccinated is the best way we can limit the impact of COVID-19 and reduce the disruption of quarantines.” The cumulative total of cases rose to 501,518, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
The state’s death toll from the virus since March 2020, as tracked by the Health Department, rose by eight to 7,810.
The number of cases in the state that were considered active fell for the 27th consecutive day, meaning that for almost four weeks, more people have recovered from the disease each day, as well as died from it, than have been diagnosed with it. The count fell by 23, to 7,667.
The number of virus patients who were on ventilators rose by two to 175, and the number in intensive care fell by 13 to 267.
Total hospital beds in the state — whether filled or vacant — fell by seven, going from 8,967 on Thursday to 8,960 on Friday, according to Health Department data.
Available beds increased by 91, to 2,185, meaning about 75.6% of the state’s hospital beds are full.
The total of intensive care beds, filled or vacant, rose by 14 to 1,211. The number of available ICU beds jumped by 15 to 108, which means that more than 91% of the special-care beds were full.
Pediatric covid-19 cases at Arkansas Children’s Hospital has plateaued, but children are still being admitted, with a handful who need intensive care each week, Arkansas Children’s spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.
“Covid is still making children very ill,” DeMillo said.
As of Friday, there were seven children at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and two at Arkansas Children’s Northwest in Springdale who were being treated for covid-19. One of those patients is in the ICU and on a ventilator, DeMillo said.
“Arkansas Children’s continues to have capacity to accept and treat more patients who have covid-19, as this number is far lower than the volumes we experienced in late summer, when we also saw a spike in RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] cases,” DeMillo said.
DeMillo said it’s vital that children 12 and over as well as their parents and others in their lives get the covid-19 vaccine.
“We understand families have questions and want them to talk to their pediatricians about why the vaccine is safe and effective,” DeMillo said. “They can also mask and encourage their children to mask in school and social settings outside the home. When combined with handwashing and social distancing, these are the most effective ways to protect children from covid-19.” Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said parents should get eligible children vaccinated as soon as possible. The Pfizer vaccine can be given to children 12 and up.
“They can also continue to encourage mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing,” McNeill said.
To date, the state has had 95,439 covid-19 cases in patients from newborn to 18 years old, according to Health Department data. Of that number, 886 required hospitalization, and 111 were admitted to the ICU.
The state has reported 191 cases in children under a year old; 11,294 cases in children 1-4 years old; 30,175 cases in children 5-11 years old; and 49,779 cases in children 12-18 years old.
About 96.8% of patients between 12-18 years old were unvaccinated. About 10.6% of the 12- to 18-year-old population in Arkansas are partially vaccinated while 38.7% are fully vaccinated.
On Friday, the state had 2,088 current 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 6,958, to 2,974,587.
Children under 12 can’t be immunized under current federal authorization.
The number of individuals fully immunized increased by 2,087, to a total of 1,356,698 or 53.1% of that age range.
As of Friday, 68,263 third vaccine doses had been administered.
As of the new cases reported Friday, 87.3% involved unvaccinated people while 89.5% of those hospitalized had not received the shots. About 81.1% of the active cases and 87.1% of the deaths involved unvaccinated people.
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.
There were 6,990 covid-19 tests reported Friday, comprising 5,529 PCR and 1,461 antigen tests.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 5,058,718 tests have been reported. Of that number, 524,471 were positive for covid-19, according to Health Department data.
The state’s orders for full shipments of rapid antigen point-of-care tests are only being partially filled, Dr. Joel Tumlison, the Department of Health physician specialist for outbreak response, said in an email.
“There is just more demand nationally for that type of test than supply right now,” Tumlison said.
The White House recently announced it will buy $1 billion worth of rapid, at-home coronavirus tests to address the ongoing national shortage of the tests.
Tumlison said the effectiveness of the at-home tests depends on the reason they are being used.
“For people with symptoms, they are pretty accurate. For asymptomatic people, this type of rapid test is not as accurate,” he said. “That is why many of the at-home tests come with two tests and instruct the buyer to test once initially and then retest again in 24 hrs.”
Health Department data indicated that Benton County had the largest increase in total cases, with the count rising by 83.
Pulaski County had the next-largest increase, 62, followed by Washington County with 51.