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Breaking: State reports first confirmed case of omicron variant as cases rise by 1,111

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | December 17, 2021 at 2:33 p.m.
Barbara McDonald, an advanced practice registered nurse for UAMS, screens patients Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 during a drive-thru covid-19 testing at the Lonoke Community Center. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Arkansas reported its first confirmed case of the fast-spreading omicron variant on Friday as the state's count of coronavirus cases rose by 1,111, the second daily increase in three days that topped 1,000.

The number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 in Arkansas rose by nine, to 538, its highest level since Oct. 11.

The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 17, to 8,930.

In a tweet, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said finding the omicron variant in Arkansas was "expected," and that he expected "more cases of the variant to be confirmed in the near future."

"This is not a surprise, but it is a compelling reason to get a booster shot now," Hutchinson said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the omicron variant had also been found in at least 36 other states as of Thursday.

Initial reports have suggested it spreads faster than the delta variant, which remains dominant in the United States, and is more able to avoid the protection afforded by vaccines, although it may cause less severe illness.

Health officials have said previously the omicron variant was likely already circulating in Arkansas but hadn't been detected earlier because only a portion of test specimens are sequenced to determine the variant that caused an infection.

The increase in Arkansas' total coronavirus case count on Friday was larger by 18 than the one the previous Friday, the second departure this week from an overall downward trend in new cases since Dec. 6.

The number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators fell Friday for fifth straight day, going from 92 as of Thursday to 90.

After not changing the previous two days, the number who were in intensive care rose by 11, to 211, which was still down from a recent high of 214 on Sunday.

The number of intensive care unit beds in the state's hospitals that were unoccupied, however, rose by 11, to 55, as a result of a drop in non-covid-19 patients who were in intensive care.

People with covid-19 made up almost 20% of the state's patients in intensive care on Friday, up from about 18% a day earlier.

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