The number of people hospitalized with the covid-19 in the state reached a new 22-month low on Thursday as the state's new case numbers also continued to decline.
The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 12, to 11,230.
"I would say we're still carrying on with the low trend in numbers and the low trend of hospitalizations," Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's chief medical officer said Thursday.
Newly reported deaths have also been trending downward.
Although the number reported Thursday was the highest in almost a week, "we know that that will probably ebb and flow, depending on when the reports come in," Dillaha said.
An average of about nine deaths per day were reported over the seven-day spans ending Wednesday and Thursday, the lowest average over seven days since the week ending Dec. 3.
All the deaths reported Thursday happened within the past month, Dillaha said.
Despite the slowdown in the virus's spread, however, "people need to have an ongoing concern about covid-19," Dillaha said.
"The surge is down, but the virus is still circulating, even at low levels," she said.
With BA.2, a strain of the omicron variant that is more transmissible than the original one, now the dominant strain in the United States, people with no immunity should be especially wary, Dillaha said.
"It will find them eventually," she said.
Even those who are fully vaccinated and have received booster shots should "be aware of [the coronavirus] and concerned about minimizing their exposures," although "the steps they need to take to minimize their exposures are going to be different now that we're out of the surge than when we're in the surge," Dillaha said.
For instance, she said people at high risk of severe covid-19, or who have household members in high-risk categories, should be careful around people who are ill and may want to take precautions such as wearing a mask when around others who aren't vaccinated or wearing masks.
On Tuesday, people 50 and older, as well certain people 12 and older with compromised immune systems, became eligible for a second booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at least four months after their first booster.
People eligible for the second booster are still considered "up-to-date" on their vaccines if they don't get it, however.
"I personally intend to receive it because I want to optimize my protection, but people need to make their own informed decision," Dillaha said.
"I would encourage people to especially consider it if they are in one of those groups" at high risk of severe covid-19, she said.
Dropping for the second day in a row, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell Thursday by five, to 114, bringing it below this year's previous low of 115 that the Health Department reported on Sunday.
The number on Thursday was the smallest since May 30, 2020.
Since March 25, it has been below the low of 141 that it reached last year, on April 8.
The state's count of cases rose Thursday by 107.
While larger by 10 than the increase on Wednesday, it was less than half the size of the one the previous Thursday.
After dropping on Wednesday below the lowest point it reached last year, the average daily increase in the state's case count over a rolling seven-day period fell Thursday to 102, its lowest level since May 16, 2020.
Already at its lowest level since May 20, 2020, the number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 54, to 1,137, as recoveries and deaths continued to outpace newly identified infections.
After not changing the previous two days, the number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators fell by three, to 23, the smallest number since April 24.
The number who were in intensive care remained for a third day at 37, its lowest level since at least May 2020.
For the first time since its first patient tested positive for covid-19 on March 13, 2020, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center on Wednesday didn't have any covid-19 patients, spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said Thursday.
She said that happened after the hospital's lone covid-19 patient was classified as having recovered from the infection.
That patient wasn't immediately discharged, however.
"You could be here for something else, and we find out you have covid, and then get over the covid while you're here, and you no longer have an an active infection and have to be isolated," Taylor said.
The hospital didn't go long without having more covid-19 patients. On Thursday, it had three.
None of the patients was in intensive care or on a ventilator, Taylor said.
"Three is certainly better than 99," Taylor said, referring the all-time high the number of covid-19 patients at the hospital reached on Jan. 25.
"I just hope it stays a low number, and maybe we go back to zero."
Baptist Health, which has 11 hospitals around the state, had 38 hospitalized covid-19 patients on Thursday, down from an all-time high of 368 on Jan. 25, spokeswoman Cara Wade said.
The patients on Thursday included 17 who were in intensive care and 11 who were on ventilators.
The number of total covid-19 patients at each hospital ranged from 17 at Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock to one at Baptist Health Medical Center-Heber Springs.
Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute-Little Rock and four other Baptist Health hospitals, in Van Buren, Arkadelphia, Stuttgart and Malvern, didn't have any covid-19 patients on Thursday, Wade said.
At St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, which had a record 128 covid-19 patients on Jan. 27, the number dipped to as low as two on March 22, spokesman Mitchell Nail said.
"When we got to that lowest point it was actually interesting because our flu numbers were much higher than our covid numbers," Nail said.
By Thursday, however, the hospital no longer had any flu patients.
Its number of covid-19 patients had risen back up to six, including one who was in intensive care.
"We were below five there for a while, and it's just slowly crept up, but I wouldn't say it's substantial enough to where I would consider it a problem," Nail said.
He said the number hasn't been this low since the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
"We needed it really because of the just constant 'on' of our team members," Nail said. "They've never really had a respite."
He said the hospital hadn't had a patient die from covid-19 in weeks. At one point this month, it had no covid-19 patients in intensive care.
"We've been keeping our fingers crossed that we wouldn't have a single covid patient" in the hospital, Nail said.
"We're still hoping that that might be a possibility, but being as low as we are is still something to celebrate, in our minds."
CASES BY COUNTY
Craighead County had the most new cases, 17, on Thursday, followed by Washington County with 11 and Pulaski County with 10.
Forty-three of the state's 75 counties didn't have any new cases.
The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 832,922.
The Health Department's tally of vaccine doses that had been administered rose by 1,398, which was larger more than 200 compared with the daily increase a week earlier.
Booster shots made up at least 27% of the most recent increase.
The count of first doses rose by 373, which was up by 15 from the increase in first doses a week earlier.
An additional 362 doses -- or about 26% of the increase on Thursday -- "did not have an available dose number," according to the Health Department's online coronavirus dashboard.
After reaching record lows the previous two days, the average number of total doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period rose Thursday to 898, which was still down from an average of more than 1,100 a day a week earlier.
The average for first doses, which had also been at a record low, rose to 298.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of Arkansans who had received at least one dose remained Thursday at 66.2%, and the percentage who had been fully vaccinated remained at 54%.
The percentage of those fully vaccinated who had received a booster dose remained at 38.7%.
Among the states and District of Columbia, Arkansas continued to rank 37th in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one dose.
In the percentage who were fully vaccinated, it remained roughly tied with Tennessee for 45th, ahead of Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming and Alabama.
Nationally, 77% of people had received at least one dose as of Thursday, and 65.6% were fully vaccinated.
Of the fully vaccinated population nationally, 44.9% had received a booster dose.