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Hospital, ventilator, ICU cases in state sink lower

Rise in covid tally decreases for 10th-straight day; death toll up by 7 by Andy Davis | October 22, 2021 at 7:06 a.m.
Sara Winningham, a staff pharmacist at the Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, prepares vials of the Pfizer vaccine for a vaccination clinic in this May 7, 2021, file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Already at their lowest levels in more than three months, the numbers of covid-19 patients in Arkansas who were hospitalized, on ventilators and in intensive care continued falling Thursday.

The state's count of cases rose by 506, the 10th daily increase in a row that was smaller than the one a week earlier.

Arkansas' death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by seven, to 8,237.

"The seven-day rolling average of positive COVID-19 tests has decreased down to 7.1% as of today," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a tweet.

"This continues a trend that started in August when it peaked at around 16%. This shows our progress towards fighting the spread of the virus as more Arkansans get vaccinated."

After reaching its lowest level of the school year Monday, however, the number of active cases among public elementary and secondary school students and employees, as tracked in Health Department reports released twice a week, rose slightly Thursday.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Meanwhile, Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said Arkansas has been allocated an initial allotment of 95,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11 that will be shipped to the state if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes the vaccine for that age group.

Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's chief medical officer, said the age group represents about 271,500 children in Arkansas.

A ruling on the authorization is expected to follow a meeting Tuesday by an FDA advisory committee.

If the authorization is issued, Dillaha said, the first doses will be shipped soon afterward over the course of a week.

Providers won't be able to start administering the doses, however, until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues recommendations, likely to happen the first week of November.

Dillaha said Arkansas' first shipments will go to providers that participate in a program that gives free immunizations to children.

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Arkansas' more than 387 providers in the Vaccines for Children program include Arkansas Children's Hospital and its clinics, federally funded community health centers, other pediatric clinics, pharmacies and the Health Department's 92 local health units.

"There are some clinics that give pediatric vaccines that are not VFC [Vaccines for Children] providers, but there's very few of them," Dillaha said.

Of the providers in the program, 321 also participate in the state's covid-19 vaccination efforts, and the state is working to get as many of the others signed up as possible, Dillaha said.

"Basically we're using the existing infrastructure for vaccinating children" to administer the Pfizer vaccine to the new age group, she said.

In 13 Arkansas counties, a Health Department local health unit is the only provider participating in the Vaccines for Children program.

The Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11 would be given in two injections, spaced three weeks apart, just like the version for adults and older children, but at one-third the dosage.

[VACCINE INFO: See the latest information on covid-19 vaccines in Arkansas » arkansasonline.com/vaccineinfo/]

After the Vaccines for Children providers receive their shipments, "we can expand it to include other locations that are willing to vaccinate children," Dillaha said.

FEWER HOSPITALIZED

The increase in cases Thursday was smaller by 275 than the one a week earlier.

As a result, the average daily increase over a rolling seven-day period fell to 520, its lowest level since the week ending July 6.

With recoveries and deaths outpacing new cases, the number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 120, to 5,661, the smallest number since July 7.

At its lowest level since that day, the number of covid-19 patients in the state's hospitals fell by 13, to 438.

The number who were on ventilators, at its lowest level since July 18, fell by two, to 121.

The number who were in intensive care fell by 19, to 180, its lowest level since July 7.

The number of intensive-care unit beds that were unoccupied rose by 27, to 197.

People with covid-19 made up about 18% of all the state's patients in intensive care, down from about 19% a day earlier and more than 50% at the height of the state's summer surge in August.

[How is the coronavirus affecting you in Arkansas? Tell us here » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus/form/]

SCHOOL CASES UP

According to Health Department reports, the number of active cases among public elementary and secondary school students and employees rose by 17, to 1,097, from Monday to Thursday.

The total, as of Thursday, was still well below the all-time high of 4,833 on Sept. 6, however.

Despite the overall increase, the number of school districts and charter school systems with at least five active cases fell by three, to 68, reaching a new low for the school year.

The Bentonville School District continued to have the most active cases, with the number rising by three, to 54, from Monday to Thursday.

Rogers School District had the next highest total Thursday, with 41, followed by Springdale School District, with 38.

At colleges and universities, the number of active cases among students and employees rose by seven, to 132, from Monday to Thursday.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, continued to have the highest number as its total rose by six, to 26.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences had the second-highest total on both days, although its number dropped by one, to 13.

John Brown University in Siloam Springs had the next highest total, 11, on Thursday.

At private elementary and secondary schools, the number of active cases rose by nine, to 55, from Monday to Thursday.

[Interactive Arkansas map not showing up above? Click here to see it: arkansasonline.com/arvirus]

CENTER'S REPORT

In a weekly report, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said 17 public school districts had 50 or more new cases per 10,000 residents within their boundaries over a two-week span, down from 22 districts last week.

There were no districts this week with 100 or more new cases per 10,000 residents. Last week, only Scranton School District in West Arkansas met that criteria.

The cases include those among residents of the district, excluding incarcerated people and residents of nursing homes and human development centers.

The Center for Health Improvement also reported that, for the fifth week in a row, the Bentonville, Cleveland County, Magnet Cove, Fountain Lake and Pulaski County Special school districts were the only ones in the state where at least 50% of residents were fully vaccinated.

The rates in those districts ranged from 54% in the Bentonville district to 51% in the Pulaski County Special district.

CASES BY COUNTY

Washington County had the most new cases Thursday, 45, followed by Benton County, which had 40, and Pulaski County, which had 36.

The state's cumulative count of cases rose to 508,937.

Dillaha said all the deaths reported Thursday happened within the past month.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized with covid-19 grew by 28, to 27,337.

The number who have ever been on a ventilator rose by eight, to 2,872.

VACCINATIONS UP

At 7,203, the increase in vaccine doses that providers reported having administered was larger by 834 than the one the previous Thursday.

After falling a day earlier, the average number of doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period rose to 5,772.

That was still down slightly from the average of 5,795 per day the previous week, however.

Of the recent shots, almost 40% were third doses, including booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for people who received their second dose at least six months ago.

First doses, including the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, made up about 29% of the increase. The rest were second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

According to the CDC, the percentage of Arkansans who had received at least one vaccine dose rose from 56.8% as of Wednesday to 56.9%.

The percentage who had been fully vaccinated rose from 47% to 47.1%.

Among the states and Washington, D.C., Arkansas continued to rank 37th in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one vaccine dose.

In the percentage who were fully vaccinated, it went from No. 44 to being roughly tied with Tennessee for the 43rd-highest percentage, ahead of Louisiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming, Idaho and West Virginia.

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