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— By Andy Davis

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Arkansas count of coronavirus cases rose Friday by 1,824 — the third daily increase in a row that was bigger than the one a week earlier.

After falling by 69 on Thursday, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell Friday by seven, to 808, its lowest level since Nov. 12.

Those patients included 144 on ventilators, down from 145 a day earlier.

The state’s death toll from the virus rose by 41, to 5,050.

In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson highlighted the state’s ongoing vaccine efforts.

“We are continuing to increase our vaccine administration efforts across the state, with over 22,000 reported yesterday,” Hutchinson said.

“This week, we have seen over 85,000 doses administered, which is an increase of nearly 30%. It’s critical each of us follow department of health guidance this weekend to protect ourselves, our friends, and our families.”

Friday’s increase in cases was more than 600 fewer than the one Thursday but more than 100 cases higher than the increase announced the previous Friday, Jan. 29.

As a result, the average number of cases added each day over a rolling seven-day period rose Friday for the third day in a row, from 1,720 as of Thursday to 1,737 as of Friday.

The number of cases that were considered active, however, fell by 48, to 16,944, as 1,831 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.

State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said she was happy to see that the number of cases added Friday, while bigger than the increase a week earlier, was still “well under 2,000.”

“That gave me hope that we may turn the recent little uptick around and continue our downward trend,” she said.

All but two of the deaths reported Friday happened within the past month.

Of the others, one happened in late December and the other in early January.

COUNTIES TARGETED

Next week, the amount of vaccine coming into the state is expected to increase for the second week in a row.

As Moderna increases vaccine production, the state was allocated enough doses to provide the initial shots next week for 45,325 people, up from 43,025 this week.

Dillaha said the state will use about 1,700 of the extra doses to target five counties — Crittenden, Hempstead, Madison, Marion and Miller — where less than 6% of the population age 16 and older had received at least one dose of vaccine.

“We were able to coordinate with the providers in those counties and provide them 100% of the Moderna that they requested,” Dillaha said.

In addition, 1,000 doses will be used for a community vaccination event in West Memphis on Friday, 500 were designated for an event for school employees in North Little Rock and 1,600 will be administered at an event at the Garland County fairgrounds on Feb. 16.

Dillaha said Garland County was selected for the event because of its high number of residents age 70 and older.

As of Friday, 12.6% of the county’s residents age 16 and older had received at least one dose of the vaccine, which was higher than the statewide percentage of 12.1%.

MORE FOR HOSPITALS

Also, for the second week in a row, an increased percentage of the doses designated for initial shots will go to hospitals, rather than pharmacies and other providers.

This week, the amount going to hospitals more than doubled, from 8,000 last week to 16,100.

Next week, hospitals will get 18,250 doses designated for initial shots, or about 40% of the total.

Hospitals were among the first providers in the state to receive the vaccine in December when the state received its first shipments, which were designated for health care workers and later for residents and workers at long-term care facilities and first-responders under Phase 1-A of the state’s vaccination plan.

But when the state made the shots available last month to people age 70 and older and school and child care employees, under Phase 1-B of the vaccination plan, state officials weren’t sure how involved hospitals would want to be, Dillaha said.

“The hospitals were very full,” Dillaha said. “The vaccination efforts are costly in terms of manpower and we wanted to make sure — we didn’t presume they would continue to vaccinate.”

More recently, hospitalizations have fallen and the hospitals have “found ways of vaccinating people without pulling staff that are needed to take care of inpatients,” she said.

“They want to vaccinate,” Dillaha said. “We’re not imposing this on them.

“This is something that they have really stepped up to the plate to do.”

Front-line “essential workers,” such as those working in factories and grocery stores, also fall under Phase 1-B but won’t be eligible for shots until later.

SUPPLY VARIES

Like several other hospitals, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison serves as a “hub” to receive shipments of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which must be stored at ultralow temperatures, and distribute it to pharmacies.

The hospital, which has also received shipments of the Moderna vaccine, has held vaccination events for school employees in Alpena and Ozark and this week held a community vaccination event in Jasper.

On Friday, it held its second community vaccination event at North Arkansas College.

The hospital “is still on lockdown,” with restrictions on visitors, hospital spokesman Robby Scucchi said, and a conference center at the college offers a “layout that’s “going to be logistically more accommodating for participants to get the vaccine.”

The hospital drew from a waiting list of about 1,500 names to schedule about 500 people to get the shots at the clinic.

At the hospital’s first event at the college, on Jan. 21, 549 people received shots, he said.

“We’re doing it based on when we get the vaccine made available to us,” Scucchi said. “It could be every week, it could be every other week. We don’t know until we get the vaccine available to us.”

JONESBORO HOSPITALS

The supply of vaccine also has affected scheduling at Jonesboro’s NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital, which has been operating a clinic in a medical office building since the state officially made the shots available to school and child care employees and people age 70 and older on Jan. 18, spokesman Ty Jones said.

“We’re scheduling with the hope that the allocation is going to be there, and then if we don’t get what we expected, then we have to move patients around on their schedule at that point,” Jones said.

He said the hospital has administered about 1,500 doses at the clinic since it opened and has 4,000 names on a waiting list.

St. Bernards Medical Center, also in Jonesboro, this week began making the shots available at a hospital-owned auditorium to Arkansans age 70 and older who made appointments through the hospital’s website or over the phone.

Previously, the hospital had scheduled appointments for the shots for its established patients who met the age criteria as well as for employees of nearby school districts.

The shots at the clinic became available this week for people 70 and older who live in the 17 counties of its service area in Arkansas.

“After getting as many of our own patients vaccinated as possible, we wanted to make sure that we reached out to the community at large in northeast Arkansas, that over 70 and older, because that age group has been hit particularly hard with covid,” hospital spokesman Mitchell Nail said.

He said the hospital began scheduling appointments Monday and administering the shots on Tuesday.

By Friday afternoon, it had given about 2,500 shots, in addition to about 4,500 others it had given in previous weeks to school employees and patients age 70 and older.

STILL AWAITING DOSES

CHI St. Vincent temporarily closed community vaccination clinics in Little Rock and Hot Springs after administering nearly 2,000 shots on Jan. 18-19, exhausting its supply of initial doses.

This week, the Health Department listed those hospitals as being in line to receive 975 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine each to provide additional initial doses.

But the health system said the doses the hospitals received were to provide booster shots for recipients of initial shots.

The hospitals are reopening the clinics to provide the booster shots but are “awaiting additional shipments of the vaccine through the Arkansas Department of Health in order to resume initial vaccinations for additional members of our community,” CHI St. Vincent spokeswoman Bonnie Ward said.

“Educators and those over age 70 who are already registered as part of the Phase 1-B vaccination effort with CHI St. Vincent will maintain their spot and our staff will begin contacting them to schedule their vaccinations once we receive additional vaccine supplies,” Ward said.

Baptist Health System of Little Rock administered its 30,000th vaccine dose on Friday, spokeswoman Cara Wade said.

Those receiving the shots include about 4,000 school employees, 5,000 people age 70 and older and 1,000 law enforcement personnel, she said.

According to the health system’s website, the shots are available to people age 70 and older at sites in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Fort Smith and Conway.

Appointments must be made through an online MyChart account. Information on registering for an account is available on the website at baptist-health.com/covid-19-vaccine.

VACCINATIONS REPORTED

Pharmacies, hospitals and other providers participating in the vaccine effort being coordinated by the state had received 555,850 doses of vaccine as of Friday morning, up 19,025 from the total as of a day earlier.

They reported having administered 351,485 of those, up 21,964 from the number a day earlier.

In addition, Walgreens and CVS reported having administered 18,777 doses, an increase of 492 from a day earlier.

The two pharmacy chains were allocated 49,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine for residents and workers in Arkansas long-term-care facilities as part of a federal program.

They have since made some of the doses available to eligible members of the broader public after it was discovered that they had more than they needed to cover the facilities.

The number of doses reported to have been delivered and administered includes some booster shots.

The actual number of shots given is higher than the Health Department’s figures because providers have three days to report the doses they administer.

On its website, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 274,459 Arkansans had received at least one dose as of Friday, an increase of 7,896 from the number it reported a day earlier.

The number of Arkansans who had received two doses rose by 5,032, to 73,810.

The number who had received at least one dose represents about 9.1% of the state’s population.

That was the 13th-highest percentage among the states and District of Columbia.

A day earlier, the state had ranked 12th on that measure.

The 2.5% of Arkansas residents who had received both doses as of Friday was the 21st-highest percentage.

Nationally, 8.7% of people had received at least one dose of vaccine, and 2.3% had received two doses.

CASES BY COUNTY

The state’s count of cases that had been confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests rose Friday by 1,292, to 242,251.

Its tally of “probable” cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests, rose by 532, to 62,472.

Pulaski County had the largest number of new cases, 195, followed by Washington County, which had 138; Benton County, which had 128; White County, which had 87; and Faulkner County, which had 79.

Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department’s count of cases rose by 17.

The state death toll rose by 19, to 4,032, among confirmed cases and by 22, to 1,018, among probable cases.

Among nursing home and assisted-living facility residents, the count of virus deaths rose by 15, to 1,933.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with the virus grew by 103, to 14,005.

The number of state virus patients who have ever been on a ventilator rose by seven, to 1,456.

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