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Arkansas' covid death toll jumps by 43 Thursday; new cases total 4,213 as hospitalizations continue falling

by Andy Davis | February 4, 2022 at 7:15 a.m.
Thomas Cook, with the Arkansas Army National Guard, administers a test for COVID-19 at a drive-thru screening site at UAMS on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. Gov. Asa Hutchinson visited the medical campus to welcome 12 Arkansas National Guard soldiers who are helping with the demand at the drive-thru screening site. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Arkansas posted its biggest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in more than five months Thursday as the state's new cases and number of hospitalized virus patients continued to decline from the record levels they reached during a surge powered by the omicron variant.

The death toll, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 43, to 9,733.

The state's count of cases rose by 4,213, which was smaller by 401 than the increase a day earlier and by more than 1,800 than the one the previous Thursday.

Dropping for the third day in a row, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell by 70, to 1,605.

It was the largest one-day decrease in the number hospitalized since Sept. 17.

"The 43 deaths in today's report are unfortunately the highest we've seen during the Omicron surge," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a tweet.

"Declining new cases and a large decrease in hospitalizations are good news, but we still need to work to protect ourselves and each other."

The increase in deaths Thursday was the largest in a single day since Aug. 24, when the number rose by 45 amid a wave of infections from the delta variant.

The state's record for a single-day increase is the 66 deaths recorded on Dec. 29, 2020.

Because it can take weeks or months for deaths to be reported to the Health Department, officials have said they expect the average number of deaths reported each day to continue climbing even as cases and hospitalizations fall from the heights they reached last month.

"We certainly will have, I think, an elevated number due to this surge," said Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's chief medical officer.

"I would think that it could be higher than what people were thinking it would be for a, quote, mild illness."

While the omicron variant has tended to cause severe illness less often than the delta variant, omicron is "not mild for everyone," Dillaha said.

"It's mild for a larger proportion, but it's still severe for many people," she said.

She said 39 of the deaths reported Thursday happened within the past month.

Of the others, one happened in August, two were from September and one was from October.

FEWER ON VENTILATORS

While down from its all-time high of 1,819 on Jan. 26, the hospitalized remained above its previous peaks last winter and during the delta surge last summer.

The number peaked at 1,371 in January 2021 and 1,459 in August.

After rising Wednesday, the numbers of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators and in intensive care both fell Thursday.

The number on ventilators fell by 16, to 230.

The number in intensive care fell by 26, to 464.

Since Jan. 22, the number in intensive care has been above last winter's peak of 458, although it remains below the record high of 558 it reached last summer.

The number of covid-19 patients on ventilators peaked at 388 last summer and at 268 last winter.

At hospitals across the state, 35 intensive care unit beds were unoccupied Thursday, up from 22 a day earlier.

The percentage of the state's ICU patients who had covid-19 fell from 40% as of Wednesday to 38%.

The average daily increase in the state's case count over a rolling seven-day period fell Thursday to 3,975, which was less than half the all-time high of 9,122 it reached the week ending Jan. 16.

It was the first time the average had been below 4,000 since the week ending Jan. 4.

With recoveries and deaths outpacing new cases, the number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 3,947, to 49,764, dropping below 50,000 for the first time since Jan. 6.

Except for Saturday and Sunday, when the Health Department didn't release new numbers as it switched to a new data system, the reported total has fallen every day since it reached a record 102,576 on Jan. 22.

SITES CLOSED

Snow and ice that covered the roads in much of the state caused many testing and vaccination sites to announce that they would be closed Thursday and today.

It also added to difficulties for hospitals already dealing with employee absences related to covid-19 and near-record numbers of coronavirus patients.

"Our staffing is a little bit challenged today, but we're making due as best we can," said Leslie Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

"We did have some folks who couldn't make it in this morning because of inclement weather."

She said "quite a few" employees at UAMS Medical Center in Little Rock spent Wednesday night at the hospital, with socially distanced sleeping arrangements on cots in offices and in other areas, so they could be at work Thursday morning.

"If it's somebody that's related, they could stay in the same room, but otherwise we're trying to keep people apart because we don't want them to get sick," Taylor said.

Other employees with four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles helped pick up some of their co-workers, she said.

She said the hospital had 71 covid-19 patients Thursday, which was unchanged from a day earlier and down from a record 99 on Jan. 25.

The patients Thursday included 24 who were in intensive care and 17 on ventilators.

Twenty-five of the 71 patients were fully vaccinated, Taylor said.

In addition to employees out because of the weather, she said UAMS, which has about 11,000 employees, had 285 absent for reasons related to covid-19, down from 302 a day earlier and as many as 800 during the height of the omicron surge last month.

The employees Thursday included 153 who had tested positive for covid-19, up from 148 a day earlier.

The number of health care workers who had tested positive rose from 90 as of Wednesday to 92.

At Baptist Health, "COVID-19 testing was down significantly today at the few sites where we were offering the service," spokeswoman Cara Wade said in an email.

"For example, at our drive-thru testing at Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock we had seen 16 people at noon. Normally, that number would be several hundred by then. The same was true for our clinics that were open and offering vaccinations today."

The health system's 11 hospitals around the state had 355 covid-19 patients Thursday, up from 351 a day earlier but still down from a record 368 on Jan. 25.

The number in intensive care rose Thursday by three, to 108, while the number on ventilators fell by nine, to 71.

"Our staff has responded amazingly at all of our hospitals," Wade said. "The vast majority of our employees have shown up to serve patients and their families like they always do.

"As far as COVID-19, we continue to see more employees return to work. Today, we are down only 88 of our approximately 11,000 employees due to reasons related to COVID-19."

By comparison, 584 of the health system's employees were out for virus-related reasons less than three weeks earlier.

Arkansas Children's Hospital closed its outpatient clinics because of the weather Thursday but was keeping appointments via video visits when possible, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.

She said Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock and Arkansas Children's Northwest in Springdale had a total of 40 covid-19 patients Thursday, up from 35 a day earlier but still down from a record 46 on Jan. 19.

The patients Thursday included three who were in intensive care and two who were on ventilators.

More than half of the 40 patients were at least 5 years old, making them eligible for vaccination, but only nine had been fully immunized, DeMillo said.

BOOSTERS' IMPACT

Providing a glimpse of the vaccines' effectiveness against the omicron variant, the Health Department on Thursday released updated numbers on the vaccination status of people who have made up the state's cases, covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths from the virus since Dec. 1.

Dillaha said people who were not fully vaccinated made up 62.1% of the cases, 67% of the hospitalizations and 72.9% of the deaths.

People who were fully vaccinated, but had not received booster shots, accounted for 33.9% of the cases, 29.4% of the hospitalizations and 25% of the deaths.

People who had been fully vaccinated and had received booster shots represented just 4% of the cases, 3.6% of the hospitalizations and 2.1% of the deaths.

As of Thursday, about 34% of the state's population was fully vaccinated but had not received booster shots, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An additional 19% were fully vaccinated and boosted, and the remaining 47% were not fully vaccinated.

The vaccines' effectiveness is "really diminished for the omicron variant for people who are not boosted," Dillaha said.

"It was also diminished, of course, for the delta variant, but it shows up in our newest data to be very clear that people need that third dose" for protection against omicron, she said.

GARLAND COUNTY

Garland County, the state's eighth-largest by population, had the most new cases Thursday with 511.

Washington County had the next-highest number, 452, followed by Pulaski County with 431.

Dillaha said there didn't appear to be a "definitive source" of infection responsible the spike in cases in Garland County.

"It appears that in general there is just a high level of community spread," she said.

She said 30% of the new cases in the county were among people ages 25-44, which was the largest percentage for any of the age groups the Health Department examined.

People 18 and younger made up 19.5% of the cases, and those age 65 and older accounted for 16%.

Statewide, the cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose Thursday to 790,223.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 grew by 103, to 33,715.

The number of the state's virus patients who have ever been on ventilators rose by seven, to 3,443.

VACCINATIONS DOWN

Already at its lowest point since the Health Department started reporting daily numbers in January 2021, the pace of reported vaccinations in the state continued slowing Thursday.

The department's tally of doses that had been administered rose by 3,606, which was smaller by more than 1,600 than the daily increase a week earlier.

Booster shots made up 38% of the most recent increase.

The count of first doses rose by 934, which was down by more than 600 compared with the increase in first doses a week earlier.

The average number of total doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period fell to 3,519, which was down from an average of more than 4,600 a day a week earlier and more than 12,000 a day in early December.

The average for first doses fell to 990, the first time it had been below 1,000 since the Health Department started reporting the numbers each day in January 2021.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of Arkansans who had received at least one dose remained Thursday at 65%, and the percentage who had been fully vaccinated remained at 52.7%.

The percentage of fully vaccinated Arkansans who had received booster doses remained at 36.3%.

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 only Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming and Alabama, in the percentage who were fully vaccinated.

Nationally 75.5% of people had received at least one dose, and 64% were fully vaccinated.

Of the fully vaccinated population nationally, 41.9% had received a booster dose.

Print Headline: State logs omicron record of 43 deaths

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