Covid-19 hospitalizations in Arkansas resumed their downward trend Saturday after Friday saw an increase for the first time in several days, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health.
Over the course of three days, hospitalizations fell by nearly 100, from 602 Wednesday to 508 Saturday. Thursday's 545 patients marked the first drop below 600 since late December. However, four more people were hospitalized Friday.
The 41 fewer patients Saturday accompanied drops in ventilator usage and intensive care patients.
Friday saw 10 new intensive care patients, the first increase after 18 days on the decline. Saturday saw seven fewer than Friday for a total of 168.
The number of patients on ventilators fell for the 12th consecutive day, with 79 Saturday, five fewer than Friday, according to Health Department data.
Despite the positive trends, the department recorded 40 deaths from covid-19 Saturday, twice the number of new deaths recorded a week earlier, for a total of 10,465 since March 2020.
State public health officials have said the state's daily death count will likely remain high for a time because of delayed reporting and slow onset of severe illness in those infected during the omicron surge.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences had 23 covid-19 patients Saturday, communications director Yavonda Chase said. Five were in intensive care and one was on a ventilator.
Three weeks earlier, the hospital had 74 covid-19 patients with 23 in intensive care and 12 on ventilators.
"It's a better situation all around," Chase said. "It gives us more breathing room and gives us the ability to take care of Arkansans who might have a variety of different conditions that they need hospitalization for."
Active, or currently infectious, covid-19 cases continued to decline Saturday, with 364 fewer than Friday.The total of 6,391 active cases is the smallest number since Dec. 2, according to state data.
The state's cumulative count of cases rose by 810 Saturday, to 818,931.
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that residents of areas with "low" and "medium" covid-19 transmission no longer need to wear masks in public. The new guidance covers 32 of Arkansas' 75 counties and 40% of the state's population.
Just three counties -- Baxter, St. Francis and Polk -- are considered to have low covid-19 levels.
Washington and Benton counties, two of the three most populous counties in Arkansas, are labeled as medium; while Pulaski, Sebastian, Faulkner, Saline, Craighead and Garland are still labeled high, meaning the CDC still recommends masks.
According to Health Department data, 55.1% of Arkansans 5 and older are fully vaccinated against covid-19.
"Masks are still valuable tools, especially for those who are immunocompromised or not up to date on their vaccinations," said Meg Mirivel, with the Department of Health.
Arkansans received 2,087 covid-19 vaccine shots Saturday, 891 more than Friday. About 45% of the new shots were booster shots.
State data show 542,156 Arkansans have received third doses of the vaccine.