Arkansas covid cases see a slight increase Thursday, with schoolchildren still showing increase

Nurse Takela Gardner looks over a patient's chart before entering a room in one of the Covid wards at University of Arkansas for Medical Science on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Little Rock. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
Nurse Takela Gardner looks over a patient's chart before entering a room in one of the Covid wards at University of Arkansas for Medical Science on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Little Rock. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose Thursday by 1,192 -- a slightly smaller increase than the one the previous Thursday -- as the number of people hospitalized in the state with the virus grew slightly for the second day in a row.

The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 10, to 11,887.

State Epidemiologist Mike Cima said seven of the deaths reported Thursday happened within the past month. The other three were from early July, he said.

The increase in cases was smaller by 39 than the one on Wednesday and by six than the one the previous Thursday.

Cima said, however, that health officials were continuing to see an uptick in cases among children after the start of the 2022-23 school year.

Among other age groups, he said, new cases were continuing to decline from the peak they reached last month.

Health officials saw a similar uptick in cases among children at the start of last school year, when the delta variant was the dominant coronavirus strain.

"I do believe through next week we will continue to see increased cases within our pediatric population," Cima said.

"Given the fact that every other age group is continuing to decrease, I think it will in fact be short-lived and be similar to what we saw at the end of August last year as the delta wave receded."

Infections among children, who make up about 23% of Arkansas' population, accounted for 27% of the state's new cases on Wednesday and 33% of those on Thursday, according to information from the Health Department's online coronavirus dashboard.

Over the past week, the number of active cases, representing people who are still potentially contagious, among children and teenagers age 18 and younger rose 38%, from 1,876 to 2,595, data from the dashboard shows.

Among all other age groups combined, active cases fell about 9%, from 9,097 to 8,248, over the same period.

Cima said case rates for children are usually lower than for other age groups.

"What we saw at the end of the delta wave last year at the start of the school year, and what we're seeing this year is that that actually flips," Cima said.

"It's not a common occurrence but it is something that has happened."

The total number of active cases, 10,843, was up by 138 compared with a day earlier and by 181 compared with Monday.

It was the first time the active case total had grown for three or more consecutive days since it peaked during the current wave of infections at 16,946 on July 20.

Since children tend to become seriously ill from covid-19 less often than adults, Cima has said he doesn't expect the uptick in cases to lead to a significant increase in hospitalizations or other severe outcomes.

The total number of covid-19 patients in the state's hospitals, which rose by two on Wednesday, rose Thursday by two more, to 307.

The number as of Thursday was still down by 20 compared with a week earlier, however, and a peak of 442 on July 20.

"For me, no red flags on that front quite yet, but we'll keep an eye on it," Cima said.

At its hospitals in Little Rock and Springdale, Arkansas Children's had 14 covid-19 patients on Thursday, down from 15 on Tuesday but up from 10 the previous Thursday, spokeswoman Hillary DeMillo said.

Pulaski County had the most new cases, 113, on Thursday, followed by Washington County with 98, Craighead County with 74 and Benton County with 73.

The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 927,072.

After rising the previous two days, the average daily increase in the state's case count over a rolling seven-day period fell slightly, to 892.

The number of the state's virus patients who were in intensive care, which fell the previous three days, rose by eight, to 71.

The number on ventilators fell by five, to 13, after rising the previous two days.


Also on Thursday, the number of Arkansas counties where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear masks in indoor public places fell by three, to 25, under a weekly update to the agency's map of "covid-19 community levels."

The levels -- high, medium or low -- are based on weekly numbers of new cases, hospital admissions for covid-19 and the percentage of staffed hospital beds that are occupied by covid-19 patients.

Under the latest update, the level fell from high -- meaning masks are recommended -- to medium in Baxter, Bradley, Calhoun, Clay, Izard, Scott and White counties and from high to low in Columbia and Union counties.

The level rose from medium to high in Clark, Johnson, Sharp and Stone counties and from low to high in Ashley and Chicot counties.

Overall, the number of counties with a medium covid-19 level rose by two, to 36. The number with a low level grew by one, to 14.

Among the state's most populous counties, the level remained medium in Pulaski, Sebastian and Saline counties, low in Benton and Washington counties and high in Faulkner and Craighead counties.

The percentage of Arkansans living in a county with a high covid-19 level fell from 27% under the previous weekly update to 23%.

In counties with a medium covid-19 level, the CDC recommends people who are immunocompromised or at high risk of severe covid-19 talk to their health care providers about whether they should wear masks or take other precautions.

People in those counties also should consider wearing masks around people who have a high risk of severe illness, according to the CDC.

In counties with low covid-19 levels, the CDC doesn't have a recommendation about whether people should wear masks.

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