Growing for the second day in a row, Arkansas' active case total, representing people who tested positive and are potentially still infectious, rose back above 1,000 on Thursday even as the state's number of hospitalized patients continued to decline.
The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Arkansas Department of Health, rose by five, to 11,301.
State Epidemiologist Mike Cima said two of the deaths reported Thursday happened in February, and the other three occurred within the past month.
The state's total case count grew Thursday by 105, an increase that was smaller by 10 than the one on Wednesday and by two than the rise the previous Thursday.
After growing slightly a day earlier, the average daily increase in the count over a rolling seven-day period fell slightly, to 80.
With new cases outpacing recoveries and deaths, however, the number of cases that were considered active rose by 30, to 1,022.
Its was just the fifth time the reported total had risen, rather than fallen, since it peaked at an all-time high of 102,576 on Jan. 22 and the first time since then that it had risen two days in a row.
The total rose back above 1,000 just two days after it fell below that mark for the first time since May 2020, about two months after the state's first case was identified.
It remained Thursday below the lowest point it reached last year, which was 1,594 on June 7, before a surge of infections from the delta variant.
"When we get down to these low points, those fluctuations are to be expected," Cima said of the increase in active cases on Wednesday and Thursday.
"When we start paying attention is when we string together a couple days, weeks of steady increases."
When the state's new cases are examined by the date of the test result, rather than the day they were reported to the Health Department, the state has been averaging "66 to 70 a day," he said.
"It's really, really hard to fall below that point," Cima said. "I would classify our trend as low and stably low."
When the state's new cases might begin increasing again is "a great question," he said.
"I think, at least for the time being, we'll continue to see these low trends," he said.
"What happens in the distant future -- distant future being late summer, early fall, into the winter -- that's a big question mark."
Dropping for the fourth day in a row, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell Thursday by one, to 95.
After rising the previous three days, the number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators remained at 23.
Growing for the second day in a row, the number who were in intensive care rose by two, to 35.
According to the Northwest Arkansas Council, a business group, hospitals in Washington and Benton counties had a combined total of just five covid-19 patients on Thursday, down from seven a day earlier.
During the surge of infections from the omicron variant, the number of hospitalized covid-19 patients in the two counties hit an all-time high of 183 on Jan. 24.
Pulaski County had the most new cases, 20, on Thursday, followed by Benton County with 14, Washington County with eight, Craighead County with seven and Randolph County with four.
No other county had more than three new cases.
Forty-five of the state's 75 counties didn't have any new cases.
The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 833,485.
Continuing an uptick that began last week, the Health Department's tally of vaccine doses that had been administered rose by 2,951, an increase that was larger by more than 1,500 than the one a week earlier.
More than half of the latest increase was from doses that were classified on the Health Department's online coronavirus dashboard as not having an "available dose number."
For now, that's how the department is listing second booster doses, which were authorized last week for people who are 50 or older or have compromised immune systems.
People age 18 and older who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for their initial shot and booster also became eligible to get a shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as a second booster four months after their first booster.
The number of Arkansans starting the vaccination process has also been on the rise.
On Thursday, the Health Department's count of first doses rose by 525, which was larger by 152 than the increase in first doses a week earlier.
Cima said he hopes the trend continues.
"When cases, hospitalizations, transmission in general is very low, now is a fantastic time to start the vaccination process if you haven't, get boosted if you haven't," he said.
"You don't want to wait until the alarm bells are going off to get that process rolling."
The average number of total vaccine doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period rose Thursday to 2,218, the first time it had been above 2,000 since the week ending Feb. 28.
The average for first doses rose to 428.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 66.3% of Arkansans had received at least one dose as of Thursday, a number that hadn't changed since Wednesday.
The percentage who were fully vaccinated rose from 54% as of Wednesday to 54.1%.
Of those fully vaccinated, the percentage who had received a booster dose remained Thursday at 38.9%.
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 and 46th, ahead of Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming and Alabama, in the percentage who were fully vaccinated.
Nationally, 77.1% of people had received at least one dose, and 65.7% were fully vaccinated.
Of the fully vaccinated population nationally, 45.1% had received a booster dose.