Despite a recent decline in Arkansas' new coronavirus cases, the state's death toll from the coronavirus topped 12,000 on Tuesday as the number of people hospitalized in the state with the virus rose for the third day in a row.
After not changing the previous two days, the death toll rose Tuesday by 24, to 12,017.
It was the largest increase in deaths reported in a single day since March 25.
State Epidemiologist Mike Cima said a change in the state Department of Health's procedures contributed to the number of deaths reported Tuesday, however.
This past weekend, he said, the department stopped entering death information in its data system on Saturdays and Sundays.
Deaths that previously would have been entered on those days are now being entered on Mondays, meaning they will show up in state's numbers on Tuesdays.
"It is possible that Tuesdays may show a higher than typical number of deaths from what we've come to expect in the past," Cima said.
In addition, he said 14 of the 24 deaths reported Tuesday happened more than a month earlier.
One occurred in March, two were from July and 11 were from early August, he said.
The state's death toll topped 12,000 just over six months after it rose above 11,000 and about seven months after it reached 10,000 -- a milestone that followed the peak of the state's first surge of infections from the omicron variant.
Over the past week, a total of 53 deaths were reported -- an elevated number compared with the previous few weeks but still down from the 59 a week reported in early August.
Cima said that when deaths are examined by the date the deaths occurred, rather than when they were reported, it appears that the daily toll has been on the decline since it peaked last month.
"We did see an increase in hospitalizations and an increase in deaths associated with the summer surge, but at a much lower level" compared with previous surges, Cima said.
He said the reduced severity of the latest wave of infections, powered by offshoots of the omicron strain, is likely the result of the availability of treatments such as Pfizer's Paxlovid pill as well as the large number of people with immunity gained from vaccination, previous infections, or both.
Compared with previous coronavirus strains, omicron also tends to cause severe illness less often, although that didn't stop it from causing a spike in deaths this past winter.
"Any time that we have a variant that is just ultra-transmissible like omicron is and its subsequent lineages are, there is that potential for a larger societal impact, even if it is less severe on individual basis," Cima said.
MORE IN HOSPITALS
After peaking over the summer at 442 on July 20, the number of covid-19 patients in the state's hospitals fell to as low as 258 just over a week ago.
This week, however, the number is on the rise.
On Tuesday, it grew by two, to 296, the largest number since Aug. 31.
Cima said the recent increase could be due to a small increase in new cases that occurred about a week after Labor Day.
Since the state's new cases have declined since then, however, he said he expects the number hospitalized to begin declining again soon.
"It may just take a few days longer than expected," Cima said.
The state's count of cases rose Tuesday by 635, which was down by 206 from the daily increase a week earlier.
Declining for the seventh day in a row, the average daily increase in the state's case count over a rolling seven-day period fell to 612, its lowest level since the week ending June 12.
With recoveries outpacing new cases, the number of cases in the state that were considered active fell Tuesday by 563, to 7,987, the first time it had been below 8,000 since June 16.
Pulaski County had the most new cases, 67, on Tuesday, followed by Craighead County with 49, White County with 39, Washington County with 34 and Benton County with 27.
The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 947,211.
After rising by five on Sunday, the number of the state's covid-19 patients who were in intensive care remained for a third day Tuesday at 47.
Growing for the third day in a row, the number on ventilators rose by one, to 20.
At its hospitals in Little Rock and Springdale, Arkansas Children's had 10 covid-19 patients on Tuesday, up from eight on Monday but down from 13 the previous Tuesday, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.