Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose Thursday by exactly 1,000 -- the second daily increase in a row that was the largest in almost three months -- as the state also reported its seventh death of a child from covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
State Epidemiologist Mike Cima said the child died late last year, but the death wasn't added to the official toll until health officials had verified that it was related to the virus.
"There is a process by which we go through the specifics of the case, make sure that it aligns appropriately with the case definition," Cima said.
"We do that with all of our deaths, really, but we pay particularly close attention to pediatric deaths in terms of wanting to get it completely right.
"So that process can be drawn out a little bit, and that's why there is a considerable delay between when it occurred and when it's reported out."
He declined to provide further information about the child, such as the age or the part of the state where the child lived, citing privacy concerns.
Including the child's death, the state's covid-19 death toll rose Thursday by five, to 11,533.
Cima said two of the nonpediatric deaths reported Thursday were from January, one was from February and one was from April.
Previously at its highest level since March 17, the number of covid-19 patients in Arkansas hospitals fell Thursday by three, to 196.
The spike in cases was the largest in a single day since March 19, when most of the increase was from a backlog of reports that had been faxed in by providers weeks earlier, during the first wave of infections from the omicron variant.
Before Thursday, the largest one-day rise since March 19 had been the 954 cases that were added Wednesday.
Cima, who had predicted the state's daily new case numbers could reach 1,000 this week, said the increase on Thursday was a continuation of a gradual upward trend, driven by new, more infectious versions of the omicron variant, that began about two months ago.
The initial culprit was a strain known as BA.2.12.1. In recent weeks, two other subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, have been causing a growing proportion of cases.
"It's becoming more evident that an infection from omicron and its related lineages does not really confer a whole lot of strong protection" in the form of natural immunity, Cima said.
"We're seeing a lot of reinfections."
People who haven't already been vaccinated can reduce the chance of such reinfections by getting the shots, he added.
"I think the best way to get the protection you need if you've been infected -- two months ago, five months ago, six months ago, a year ago -- is to go get the vaccination," he said.
"We know that that confers a stronger immunity than just natural immunity alone."
He said he expects the upward trend in new cases to continue next week, although declines in infections in some northeastern states provide hope that the wave could be near its crest in Arkansas.
The average daily increase in the Arkansas' case count over a rolling seven-day period rose Thursday to 679, its highest level since the week ending Feb. 26.
With new cases outpacing recoveries, the number of cases in the state that were considered active rose by 407, to 7,895, the largest total since Feb. 23.
The number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators, which didn't change Wednesday, rose Thursday by one, to nine.
After rising by six on Wednesday, the number who were in intensive care remained Thursday at 26.
At its hospitals in Little Rock and Springdale, Arkansas Children's had six covid-19 patients on Thursday, the same number as a day earlier and up from five on Monday, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.
In Phillips County, a recent increase in new cases and hospitalizations led to the county's "covid-19 community level" being elevated to "high" -- triggering a recommendation that people wear masks in indoor public places -- under the latest update to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map.
It was the first time since April 6 that any of Arkansas' counties had been listed as having a high covid-19 level.
The level in Phillips County had been listed as "medium" level under last week's update.
During the seven days ending Wednesday, however, its new cases translated to a rate of 208 per 100,000 residents, up from 146 per 100,000 residents the previous week.
Hospital admissions for covid-19 in the county also rose, going from a rate of 16.9 per 100,000 residents the week ending June 7 to 22.5 per 100,000 residents the week ending Tuesday.
Counties with 200 or more new cases per 100,000 residents during a week are considered to have a high covid-19 level if their weekly hospital admissions translate to a rate of at least 10 per 100,000 residents.
Those with fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 residents are considered to have a high covid-19 level if their weekly hospital admissions amount to a rate of at least 20 per 100,000 residents.
The latest CDC map update also showed the covid-19 level rising from "low" to medium in 10 Arkansas counties and falling from medium to low in two others.
Overall, the number of medium-level counties rose from seven to 14, while the number listed as low fell from 68 to 60.
Among the state's most populous counties, the map as of Thursday listed the level as medium in Pulaski County and Craighead counties and low in Benton, Washington, Sebastian, Faulkner and Saline counties.
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.
CASES BY COUNTY
Pulaski County had the most new cases, 203, on Thursday, followed by Benton County with 80 and Craighead County with 51.
The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 853,229.
The Health Department's tally of vaccine doses that had been administered rose by 1,470, which was down by more than 200 from the daily increase a week earlier.
People receiving their first booster shots made up about 67% of the most recent increase.
The count of people starting the vaccination process rose by 255, which was down by 49 from the daily increase a week earlier.
The average number of total doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period fell to 1,213, which was down from more than 1,500 a day a week earlier.
The average for first doses fell to 237.
According to the CDC, 67.3% of Arkansans had received at least one dose as of Thursday, and 54.9% had been fully vaccinated.
Of those who were fully vaccinated, 40.5% had received a booster dose.
Among the states and the District of Columbia, Arkansas ranked 37th in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one dose.
In the percentage who were fully vaccinated, it was roughly tied with Tennessee for 46th, ahead of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Wyoming.
Nationally, 78.1% of people had received at least one dose, and 66.8% were fully vaccinated.
Of the fully vaccinated population nationally, 47.2% had received a booster dose.