In a break from a recent uptick linked to the start of the 2022-23 school year, Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose Wednesday by 1,180, the first daily increase in six days that was smaller than the one a week earlier.
After falling by six a day earlier, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 remained Wednesday at 318.
The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by eight, to 11,918.
Health Department spokeswoman Katie White said all the deaths reported Wednesday happened more than a month ago.
One death occurred in December, two were from February, one was from May, two were from June and two were from July, she said.
The increase in cases on Wednesday was smaller by more than 200 than the one Tuesday and by 51 than the rise the previous Wednesday.
After rising the previous five days, the average daily increase in the state's case count over a rolling seven-day period fell Wednesday to 966, which was still up from an average of 893 a day the previous week.
State health officials have said the recent slight upward trend in the state's new case numbers, coinciding with the start of the school year, has been driven primarily by transmission among people 18 and younger.
Infections among children, who represent about 23% of the state's population, accounted for 34% of the cases added to the state's count on Wednesday.
"We are hopeful that we are turning a corner, but we will need to see what the next week or two shows before we know for sure," White said in an email.
Pulaski County had the most new cases, 129, on Wednesday, followed by Craighead County with 87 and Washington County with 73.
The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 932,639.
Growing for the second day in a row, the number of cases in the state that were considered active rose Wednesday by 287, to 11,519, as new cases outpaced recoveries.
The total as of Wednesday was the largest since Aug. 14.
Declining for the third straight day, the number of the state's virus patients who were in intensive care fell by six, to 45, the smallest number since July 11.
Already at its lowest level since July 11, the number on ventilators fell by one, to 11.
At its hospitals in Little Rock and Springdale, Arkansas Children's had 16 covid-19 patients on Wednesday, down from 19 on Tuesday, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.
Meanwhile, White said Arkansas has submitted "pre-orders" for 46,400 doses of the updated Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Wednesday for use as booster doses.
The state requested 24,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which was authorized for people 12 and older, and 21,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which was cleared for those 18 and older.
Both vaccines, which target the original coronavirus strain as well as two strains of the omicron variant that are now responsible for most infections, were authorized as boosters for fully vaccinated people who received their last booster or primary series dose at least two months earlier.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it expected shipments to begin "immediately" after the vaccines were authorized by the FDA, although the vaccinations would not start until the CDC issues recommendations on the vaccines' use.
An advisory committee to the CDC is scheduled to meet on proposed recommendations today.
White said Arkansas' request for doses was submitted to the federal government this week during the second "wave" of pre-orders.
She said doses are expected to begin arriving in the state Sept. 8.
Another Health Department spokeswoman, Danyelle McNeill, said in an email the department did not request any doses during the first wave of pre-orders. Doses requested during that wave would have started arriving on Tuesday of next week, White said.
"We were still in the process of collecting pre orders" from providers during the window to submit first-wave requests, McNeill said.
Arkansas was allowed to pre-order up to 21,500 doses of the Moderna boosters and 56,100 of Pfizer's.
White said Arkansas' pre-orders for both vaccine types were based on requests it received from health care providers.
"We placed pre-orders that we received and will continue to place orders for both vaccine types as we receive them," White said.
The pre-ordered doses include 10,200 of Pfizer and 8,600 of Moderna that will go to the Health Department's local health units, which redistribute some of those doses to other health units as well as to pharmacies other health care providers.
Premier Pharmacy Care, which serves nursing homes and assisted living facilities, will receive a total of 11,000 Moderna doses.
The other pre-ordered doses included 2,000 doses of Moderna and 1,200 doses of Pfizer that will go to Kavanaugh Pharmacy in Little Rock, 2,700 doses of Pfizer and 300 doses of Moderna that will go to Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville.
Other pre-ordered Pfizer doses include 1,800 for Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers, 4,200 for Arkansas Children's, 600 for St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro and a total of 4,200 doses of Pfizer for Baptist Health facilities in Little Rock and Fort Smith.
Like the local health units, the hospitals and Kavanaugh Pharmacy will be redistributing some of the doses to other providers, White said.
Outside of the state vaccination program, additional doses will be shipped to veterans hospitals and other federal entities and to stores participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.
For instance, Arkansas pharmacies belonging to the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network requested a total of 16,800 doses of Pfizer and 4,400 doses of Moderna through the federal program, John Vinson, chief executive of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, said.
At Kavanaugh Pharmacy, which receives doses through both the state and federal programs, co-owner Anne Pace said she plans to have extra staff working next week to help with the rollout.
"I expect, at least for the first two weeks or so, a pretty decent demand," she said.
Unlike the early days of the vaccination effort, however, she doesn't expect people to face long waits to get the shots.
"I think it will be a lot of vaccine, so people should be able to get it a lot of different places," Pace said.
"I anticipate we'll be able to meet the demand."
In the meantime, after the FDA on Wednesday withdrew its authorization of the original versions of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for use as booster shots, Pace said her pharmacy has stopped administering booster shots for people 12 and older until the updated vaccines arrive next week.
Since an updated vaccine has not yet been authorized for children younger than 12, a low-dose version of the original Pfizer vaccine remains authorized as a booster for children age 5-11 who completed their initial two-dose primary series at least five months ago.
White said the Health Department "will be working to inform providers" about the change.
"Bivalent boosters are not scheduled to be available in Arkansas until late next week at the earliest" White said, referring to the updated vaccines authorized Wednesday.
"Appointments for boosters for people ages 12 and up should be rescheduled for when the bivalent vaccine is available."