Arkansas hospitals continue to see fewer covid-19 patients, including those on ventilators and in intensive care units, according to data published Saturday by the state Department of Health.
There were 784 hospitalized covid-19 patients Saturday, two days after the number dropped below 1,000 for the first time in more than a month. Saturday's figure was down 81 from 865 Friday. It was the 19th consecutive day that hospitalizations decreased.
Hospitals saw fewer covid-19 patients on ventilators for the fifth day in a row, dropping by 15 to 123.
The number of intensive care covid-19 patients fell by 21 to 641, the 13th daily decrease in a row.
New and active cases continued their decline. Active, or currently infectious, cases have dropped every day this month so far, with 503 fewer Saturday than Friday.
Saturday's 977 new cases, 302 fewer than Friday's, brought the total since March 2020 to 813,925.
Every county in Arkansas reported fewer than 100 new covid-19 cases for the first time since Dec. 26, according to Health Department data. Pulaski County had the most new cases Saturday with 97, Washington County had 71 and Benton County had 67.
Demand for covid-19 vaccines has been decreasing in Arkansas since January. Adam Wheeler, owner of Tanglewood Drug Store in Little Rock, said the pharmacy has "seen a pretty sharp decline" in customers seeking vaccinations.
"Some days we don't have any appointments at all, which has been unusual in the past," Wheeler said.
The Health Department's online covid-19 dashboard did not have updated numbers of shots distributed, including booster shots, as of Saturday evening.
However, the data did show that 55% of Arkansans ages 5 and older were fully vaccinated as of Saturday.
Wheeler said Tanglewood Drug Store saw high demand for covid-19 rapid antigen tests from November to January before it had "tapered off" with the omicron variant.
The Health Department received reports of 6,253 PCR test results and 2,411 antigen test results Friday.
Meg Mirivel, the department's communications director, said the current decline in new cases and hospitalizations means it's "actually a good time" for unvaccinated people to get their shots.
"It takes several weeks to be fully vaccinated and boosted, and we don't want people to wait until there's another surge to get vaccinated," Mirivel said.
The department was notified Friday of the state's fourth coronavirus case caused by the omicron subvariant BA.2, sometimes called "stealth omicron" because of a genetic difference that makes it harder to track than the original strain, known as BA.1.
In a report Tuesday, the World Health Organization said BA.2 appears to spread faster than BA.1 but doesn't appear to be significantly better at evading the protection afforded by vaccines or immunity from previous infections.
It said no evidence suggested that BA.2 causes severe illness more often than BA.1.
"We're not seeing anything that makes it look like that subvariant is going to affect our downward trajectory [in cases and hospitalizations], and we're keeping and eye on what's going on in other states and countries with that," Mirivel said Saturday.
The Health Department reported 20 new deaths from covid-19 Saturday, bringing the total to 10,291.