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State covid-19 cases continue to increase

by Andy Davis | June 25, 2022 at 9:53 a.m.
Eddie McDade, a student at Philander Smith College, swabs his nose for a covid-19 test Friday, June 17, 2022, during an Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care and Arkansas Department of Health vaccine and testing clinic at D.W. Reynolds Library. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

A sharp uptick in Arkansas' new coronavirus cases continued for a second day on Friday, with the state's case count rising by 1,062, the second daily increase in a row that topped 1,000.

After rising the previous two days, however, the number of covid-19 patients in the state's hospitals fell by five, to 191.

The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Arkansas Department of Health, rose by five, to 11,564.

Health Department Director Jennifer Dillaha said all the deaths reported Friday happened more than a month ago.

Three occurred in February, one was in March and one was from earlier in May, she said.

While smaller than the spike of 1,434 cases on Thursday, the increase on Friday was larger by 282 than the one the previous Friday.

Along with a rise of exactly 1,000 cases on June 16, it was just the third daily increase since March that was in the quadruple digits.

Dillaha said the increase on Friday appeared to be a continuation of an upward trend driven most recently by the strains of the omicron variant known as BA.4 and BA.5.

Likely due at least in part to the large number of people with immunity developed through a past infection, vaccination, or both, the cases haven't been resulting in severe illness as often as during previous waves of infection.

But Dillaha noted even mild infections can result in long-term symptoms such a fatigue or cognitive impairment.

"I still encourage people to take every action that they can to avoid infection," Dillaha said.

"It's very possible to get reinfected if people have been infected before."

She also said that, during the first omicron wave this past winter, children under 5 had a higher rate of hospitalization from covid-19 than older children.

"We have to think about that, too, in terms of getting that age group vaccinated, as long we have omicron circulating," Dillaha said.

CHILDREN'S VACCINES

Children as young as 5 have been eligible for the Pfizer vaccine since November, but it wasn't until late last week that federal officials authorized shots for younger children.

The Pfizer vaccine was cleared for children from 6 months to 4 years of age, and the Moderna vaccine was authorized for those ages 6 months to 5 years.

Both vaccines are low-dose versions of the companies' shots that are available to adults.

Arkansas' first "wave" of deliveries, consisting of 15,000 doses of each vaccine, arrived in the state on Monday at nine of the Health Department's local health units.

Those units then began distributing some of the doses to other health units, as well as to private health care providers, around the state.

Anna Strong, executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Arkansas chapter, said she surveyed the state's pediatric clinics by email on Thursday and heard from several who hadn't yet received their initial supply.

Some were told that, if they hadn't "pre-ordered" doses last week, "it might be a couple weeks" before the doses would be available, Strong said.

She said she spoke with Dillaha and other Health Department officials about the issue, and it appeared to have been resolved by Friday.

She said most clinics that hadn't already received doses were able to get them Friday or were expecting them on Monday.

"I anticipate that the vast, vast majority of clinics in Arkansas will be giving out vaccines by Monday," Strong said.

Dillaha said clinics were allowed to pre-order vaccines last week, but it wasn't a requirement to receive doses this week.

"If a clinic needed vaccine and placed an order, the local health unit may not have had the doses they needed right then but could get it within a day or so," Dillaha said.

"Even when we're ordering from the feds, we're getting the orders like the next day or two, so it's very quick," she added.

In addition to the doses being distributed by local health units, the state has ordered some that were shipped directly to large health care providers.

Dillaha said Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff received 600 doses of Moderna on Tuesday and the same number of Pfizer doses on Friday.

Arkansas Children's Hospital received 600 doses of Pfizer on Thursday, she said.

Meanwhile, Dillaha said Arkansas had been allocated 31,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine that was recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday as an option for children age 6-11, although she didn't yet know how many doses the state will order.

She said the state had not yet been notified of its allocation of the Moderna vaccine for children age 12-17 that was also endorsed by the CDC on Friday.

CASES BY COUNTY

Pulaski County had the most new covid-19 cases, 170, on Friday followed by Washington County with 79 and Benton County with 70.

The average daily increase in Arkansas' covid-19 case count over a rolling seven-day period rose Friday to 801, the first time it had been above 800 since the week ending Feb. 24.

The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 859,615.

Already at its highest level since Feb. 21, the number of cases in the state that were considered active rose by 361, to 9,595, as new cases continued to outpace recoveries.

Dropping for the third day in a row, the number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators fell by one, to nine.

The number who were in intensive care, which didn't change a day earlier, rose by six, to 38.


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