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Arkansas reports rise in covid patients in ICU, on ventilators

by Andy Davis, Cynthia Howell | September 8, 2021 at 7:02 a.m.
Cole Downing receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during a drive through vaccine clinic in downtown Little Rock on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021. The clinic was hosted by the Junior League of Little Rock, in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Health and ExpressRx. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Although still down from their peaks last month, the number of covid-19 patients in Arkansas hospitals, in intensive care and on ventilators all rose Tuesday.

Likely reflecting a slowdown in testing over Labor Day, the state count of cases rose by 583, the smallest daily increase since July 19.

The death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by 38, to 7,108.

"Our case report today sadly shows 38 deaths," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a tweet.

"We have fewer cases from the Labor Day weekend, but we'll see the effects of the holiday weekend later this week and into the next. Vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalizations and death."

Meanwhile, covid-19 cases and quarantines this week prompted the first two districtwide shifts to virtual instruction since classes at most public school districts in the state started Aug. 16.

Classes are being held remotely for the entire week at the Lafayette County School District and until Friday at the Western Yell County School District.

"We have had more employees test positive or become quarantined over the weekend," Western Yell County district Superintendent Deanna Klaus said Sunday on the district's Facebook page.

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

"We have tried really hard to stay open, but we are now in a situation where we do not have enough subs to cover everyone who is out and efficiently and effectively handle on-campus learning."

After falling the previous two days, the number of hospitalized covid-19 patients rose Tuesday by eight, to 1,228.

The number on ventilators, which fell by 17 on Monday, rose Tuesday by one, to 321.

The number in intensive care rose for the second-straight day, going from 504 as of Monday to 513.

The number of intensive care units that were unoccupied statewide fell by two, to 20.

Covid-19 patients made up about 46% of the patients in intensive care both Monday and Tuesday.

After peaking at 1,459 on Aug. 16, the number of covid-19 patients in hospitals has been trending mostly downward.

Since Aug. 24, it's been below the peak of 1,371 that it reached in January during the winter surge.

The highs so far have been 388 on Aug. 31 for the number of covid-19 patients on ventilators and 558 on Aug. 23 for the number in intensive care.

Although down from those records, the numbers of patients on ventilators and in intensive care have remained well above their January peaks, which were 268 for the number on ventilators and 458 for the number in intensive care.

INSTRUCTIONAL SHIFTS

In a post Sept. 1, the Western Yell County School District superintendent warned that the county was one of the top 10 in the state in the percentage of its residents who had active infections and that the district leaders had considered pivoting to remote instruction earlier.

Since the start of the school year, Klaus said, the district had had 16 cases among students and staff members, resulting in 86 students and eight employees being quarantined.

On Sunday, Klaus said that more employees had tested positive or been required to quarantine over the weekend.

The 351-student district, based in Havana, is using "alternative methods of instruction" days, which are authorized by state law to enable schools to temporarily shift to remote instruction because of inclement weather, utility failures or widespread illness without having to make up the days later in the school year.

"Our teachers should be reaching out to students/families with the information you need to get your work, get fed, receive special services, etc.," Klaus also posted.

"Any families who need to come to school to pick up items will need to remain in the parking lot and we will bring your items out to you. Anyone who must come inside the building will need to wear a mask while inside."

Families that need internet service can park in schools' parking lots to access Wi-Fi, she said.

The 513-student Lafayette County district, based in Lewisville, also is using alternative-methods-of-instruction days this week.

"Due to an increase in the number of positive cases in grades K-12 and the number of students quarantined, the Lafayette County School District will be taking four AMI days, September 7-10," the district said on Facebook.

"Students will return [to on-campus classes] on September 13."

On its website, the district said that it had 15 active cases among students and four among staff members as of Tuesday.

Last Friday, a football game between Lafayette County and Parkers Chapel high schools at Lafayette County High was canceled because of infections and quarantines.

In Stuttgart, classes at Meekins Middle School were being taught remotely Tuesday and today because of virus cases and quarantines.

The Augusta School District released students early on Friday so the district could conduct cleaning and strategize on its response to the virus.

School districts also have several other instances in which a grade or a class had to shift to remote learning briefly since the start of the school year.

The latest shift for a part of a school was the first grade at Northside Elementary in the Rogers district.

That started Tuesday and will go through Sept. 14.

According to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement's website, neither the Western Yell County School District nor the Lafayette County district has a requirement for students and employees to wear masks.

The Rogers and Stuttgart districts have mask requirements.

SCHOOL CASES

Already at an all-time high, the number of active cases among public school students and employees rose by 42, to 4,833 from Thursday to Monday, according to Health Department reports.

A total of 203 of the state's 262 school districts and charter school systems had five or more active cases, up from 199 districts and charter school systems as of Thursday.

Since Aug. 1, a total of 11,420 students and employees have tested positive for the virus.

The number of active private-school cases dipped from 100 on Thursday to 96 on Monday.

Colleges and universities had 762 active cases on Monday, up from 666 on Thursday.

In the 48 hours ending at 3 p.m. Tuesday, the Little Rock School District, which has a mask requirement, reported that 16 students had tested positive and 51 had been required to quarantine. The affected students were from 21 district campuses.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville saw a decline in its active coronavirus infections over a three-day period that ended Sunday, according to university data.

Cases decreased by about 31%, falling to 137 from 199 three days previously.

The decline reported on UA's website Tuesday reflected 36 new cases reported as well as 98 infections now considered to be "recoveries" because 10 days have passed since the positive test date.

The dip occurs after cases had been on the rise after the Aug. 23 start of fall semester classes.

Out of 89 on-campus tests conducted Friday through Sunday, 11, or 12.4%, came back positive.

Over the same time period, UA received 25 self-reported positive results.

The 137 active cases included 128 student infections, five staff members infected and four faculty members with covid-19.

PEDIATRIC CASES

According to a Health Department chart distributed to members of the Legislature's public health committees on Tuesday, new cases among children and young people age 18 and younger continued climbing steeply through at least the week ending Friday.

That week, the number of new cases per 10,000 residents was higher among those 18 and younger than for any other age group.

For other age groups, new cases have declined after peaking in early August, according to the chart.

"I think that it shows that young children can get infected by the delta variant just as easily as any other age," said Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's chief medical officer.

"That's a little bit worrisome because we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations among children as well," she said.

She said 108 Arkansans age 18 and younger were hospitalized in July, and 129 were hospitalized in August, setting new highs.

The hospitalizations in August represented about 1% of the cases among people in that age group.

In January, the 76 hospitalizations of children and young people age 18 and younger represented 0.6% of that month's cases among people in that age group.

Dillaha said the continued rise in cases among children and teenagers appears to be linked to the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Children are especially vulnerable to infection, Dillaha has said, because those under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and the vaccination rate among those age 12-18 is still low.

"I think the best approach is going to be for schools and school districts to optimize their strategies for suppressing spread, not just in their classrooms but in the school-related extracurricular activities," Dillaha said.

"It's going to take the whole community working together."

At its hospitals in Little Rock and Springdale, Arkansas Children's had 24 patients on Tuesday, down from a record 31 on Aug. 13, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.

The patients on Tuesday included 11 in intensive care and eight on ventilators.

DeMillo said one of the 24 patients had been fully vaccinated. More than half of the patients were at least 12, she said.

MU VARIANT

Also on Tuesday, Dillaha said the Health Department had learned of the fifth case in the state that was identified as having been caused by the mu variant, which was first identified in Colombia in January.

The World Health Organization last week added the strain to its list of "variants of interest" because of preliminary evidence that it can evade antibodies.

Dillaha said Arkansas had two cases in April, one in May and one in August that were found to be caused by the variant.

"I don't think it's going to out-compete the delta variant," Dillaha said.

According to a Health Department report on Tuesday, 93% of cases sequenced in the 30 days ending Saturday to determine which variant they were caused by were found to be the result of the delta variant, which first emerged in India and has become the dominant strain in the United States.

Cases caused by the alpha variant from the United Kingdom accounted for 1% of the cases.

NEW CASES DOWN

The increase in cases on Tuesday was smaller by more than 2,000 than the one a week earlier. But Monday was Labor Day.

As a result, the average daily increase in the state's case count over a rolling seven-day period fell to 1,775, its lowest level since July 31.

Illustrating the drop in testing, the Health Department said that it had received the results of 3,133 coronavirus tests that were performed Monday, which was down by more than 7,300 from the number it reported a week earlier.

(Because of lags in reporting, the increase in the case count on a given day typically includes tests that were performed over several days.)

Dillaha said 12.2% of the coronavirus tests were positive during the seven-day span ending Monday, down from the 12.6% that was initially reported for the week ending Thursday and a recent high of 16.3% for the week ending Aug. 4.

Hutchinson has said he wants to keep the percentage below 10%.

With recoveries outpacing new cases, the number of cases considered active fell Tuesday by 1,881, to 19,794, its lowest level since Aug. 3.

Benton County had the most new cases on Tuesday, 61, followed by Craighead County, which had 53, and Pulaski County, which had 48.

The cumulative count of state cases rose to 465,315.

Dillaha said all the deaths that were reported Tuesday happened within the past month.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized with covid-19 grew Tuesday by 40, to 24,473.

The number of state virus patients who have ever been on a ventilator rose by six, to 2,475.

VACCINATIONS DROP

Similar to the drop in new cases, the number of vaccine doses that providers reported having administered, including second and third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, rose Tuesday by 2,540, which was smaller by more than 11,100 than the increase a week earlier.

The average number of doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period fell to 8,253, its lowest level since July 23.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Arkansans who had received at least one dose rose Tuesday by 920, to 1,630,602, representing about 54% of the state's population.

The number who had been fully vaccinated rose by 1,819, to 1,293,559, or about 42.9% of the population.

Among the states and District of Columbia, Arkansas ranked 37th in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one dose.

It ranked 42nd, ahead of Louisiana, Tennessee, North Dakota, Georgia, West Virginia, Idaho, Mississippi, Alabama and Wyoming, in the percentage who were fully vaccinated.

Nationally, 62.5% of adults and kids had received at least one dose, and 53.2% were fully vaccinated.

Information for this article was contributed by Jaime Adame of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Print Headline: Count on virus hit in state edges up

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