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Arkansas' covid hospitalizations drop below 1,000 as governor decides to stop publicizing daily virus snapshots

Governor ends daily public updates by Andy Davis | February 18, 2022 at 7:05 a.m.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that with declining covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, the state will switch to weekly compilations of coronavirus data. He said the change is “because of where we are and the fact that we’ve been at this for two years.” But the state Health Department will continue to update its online dashboard daily, he said. More photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Dropping for the 17th day in a row, the number of people hospitalized with covid-19 in Arkansas fell below 1,000 Thursday for the first time in more than a month as the state's new case numbers also continued to decline.

Continuing an uptick in deaths, however, the state's death toll rose by 45, the third-largest daily increase since a surge powered by the omicron variant started in late December.

The number hospitalized fell by 73, to 931, its lowest level since Jan. 6.

Citing the decline, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that the state will switch from daily to weekly compilations for the public of the state's new covid-19 cases, deaths, hospitalizations and other information.

The Department of Health's online coronavirus dashboard, however, will continue to be updated each day.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's chief medical officer, said the change will take effect after today.

Hutchinson said the change was being made "because of where we are and the fact that we've been at this for two years."

He said he and Health Secretary Jose Romero had decided they would make the switch after the number of people hospitalized with the virus in the state dropped below 1,000.

"If we have to change it down the road, we will, but [we've been] very transparent for two years," Hutchinson said. "We'll continue that transparency. It's easy to get the information off the Department of Health website."

Information on the state's new cases, deaths and other metrics can be calculated by comparing the numbers listed on the dashboard from one day to the next.

The daily summaries, which Hutchinson and the Health Department post on social media platforms, have made the information more readily available, however, while also creating a record that can be used to retrieve historical information.


At his weekly news conference at the state Capitol, Hutchinson said the vaccination rate has "increased dramatically" among employees at the state's five human development centers, which have a vaccination requirement that went into effect Jan. 31.

Health care facilities that receive reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid are required to have such policies under federal rules that were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 13, that Hutchinson opposed.

In Arkansas and 23 other states that had challenged the mandate in court, the rules required employees to have at least one vaccine dose or a pending request for a medical or religious exemption by Monday of this week.

The employees without an exemption must be fully vaccinated by March 15.

Hutchinson said the process for human development center employees to request exemptions has "worked fairly smoothly."

"I've been very concerned about losing employees, but we've been working very hard with our employees with our vaccination program, and hopefully in the end that will have a reduced impact in terms of lost employees," Hutchinson said.

"We don't want to lose any. We're working hard to keep them."

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published the rules requiring vaccinations on Nov. 7.

In a Dec. 17 letter to the agency objecting to the mandate, Arkansas Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie said the seven Department of Human Services facilities affected by the rules, including the human development centers had a vaccination rate of 63%.

The human development centers house people with severe developmental disabilities.

The two other department facilities subject to the mandate are the Arkansas State Hospital in Little Rock and the Arkansas Health Center, a psychiatric nursing home in Benton.

As of early this week, the percentage of employees at the seven facilities who were fully vaccinated had risen to 75.6%.

An additional 8.1% were partially vaccinated, and 7.3% had approved exemptions.

Hutchinson said Thursday that he remained opposed to government vaccination mandates, noting that he was among 16 Republican governors who joined the premiers of two Canadian provinces in sending a letter Wednesday to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden calling for an end to vaccination mandates for truckers crossing the border.

"Clearly, if you have a mandate, the vaccination rate will go up some, but it's at what cost, and is it necessary, and what resistance does it build out in society?" Hutchinson said Thursday.

"We're seeing our vaccination rate go up, and I don't believe it's because of mandates. It's because of more education, and people are not feeling the pressure of government, but they're making the right decision for themselves."


The increase in recorded deaths Thursday brought the state toll since March 2020 to 10,235.

Already above the peak it reached during a surge last summer driven by the delta variant, the average number of deaths reported each day over a rolling seven-day period rose from 38 as of Wednesday to 43, the highest average since the week ending Jan. 27, 2021.

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

During the omicron surge, the largest one-day increase was the 49 deaths reported Wednesday. The second-largest was the 48 that were reported Saturday.

Because of delays in reporting, as well as the amount of time it can take for someone to succumb to complications from covid-19 after being infected, health officials have said the number of coronavirus deaths reported each day in Arkansas is likely to remain high for some time even as the state's new case numbers decline.

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

According to data she provided, 69.6% of the 1,110 covid-19 deaths in the state from Dec. 1 through Wednesday were of people who were not fully vaccinated.

About 26% were of people who had been fully vaccinated but had not received boosters. People who had received boosters made up less than 5% of the total.

The apparent effect of the vaccines was even more pronounced among younger people.

Among Arkansans ages 18-24, for instance, three covid-19 deaths occurred from Dec. 1 through Wednesday, and all were of people who were not fully vaccinated.

Forty-five deaths were of people ages 25-44. Of those, only 6.7% were of people who were fully vaccinated, and none had received boosters.

Even among older Arkansans, people who had received booster shots made up a small percentage of the deaths.

Of the 240 people ages 45-64 who died, just 2.5% had received boosters. An additional 18.8% were fully vaccinated but had not been boosted.

Among Arkansans 65 and older, 822 deaths occurred from Dec. 1 through Wednesday. Of those, 5.6% were of people who had received boosters. An additional 28.9% were fully vaccinated but had not received boosters.

"We need people to be fully vaccinated as well as boosted," Dillaha said at the news conference.


The state's count of cases rose Thursday by 1,149, an increase that was larger by 25 than the one a day earlier but smaller by 676 than the one the previous Thursday.

Already at its lowest level since the week ending Dec. 28, the average daily increase in the case count over a rolling seven-day period fell to 1,353.

With recoveries and deaths outpacing new cases, the number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 482, to 12,484.

In another sign of the slowing spread of the virus, Dillaha said 10.9% of the state's coronavirus tests were positive over the seven-day span ending Wednesday, down from the 12.4% that was initially reported for the week ending Tuesday and an all-time high of more than 37% the week ending Jan. 18.

Dropping for the third day in a row, the number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators fell Thursday by 13, to 142, its lowest level since Jan. 9.

Already at its lowest level since Jan. 8, the number who were in intensive care fell by 12, to 283, its 11th straight daily decline.

At its hospitals in Little Rock and Springdale, Arkansas Children's on Thursday had 16 covid-19 patients, including one who was in intensive care and on a ventilator, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.

She said more than half of the patients were at least age 5, making them eligible for vaccination, and seven were fully immunized.


Among students and employees at the state's public elementary and secondary schools, the number of active cases fell by 234, to 1,770, from Monday to Thursday, according to Health Department reports released twice a week.

Over the same period, the number of the state's 261 school districts and charter school systems with five or more active cases fell by three, to 94.

The reports have shown the active case total consistently declining since it peaked at an all-time high of 20,937 on Jan. 20.

The Little Rock School District on Thursday continued to have the most active cases, with the number rising from 150 as of Monday to 157.

The Bentonville School District had the next-highest total, 102, Thursday followed by the Rogers School District with 84.

Among students and employees at private elementary and secondary schools, the number of active cases fell by eight, to 68, from Monday to Thursday.

The highest totals Thursday were at Christ the King Catholic School in Little Rock and Immaculate Conception Catholic School in North Little Rock, which had eight active cases each.

Our Lady of Holy Souls School in Little Rock had the next-highest total, six, Thursday.

In a weekly report, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said just three public school districts had 100 or more new cases per 10,000 residents within their boundaries over a recent two-week period, down from 116 districts a week earlier.

No district had 200 or more new cases per 10,000 residents, down from two districts a week earlier.

The number of districts with 50 or more new cases per 10,000 residents fell by more than half, from 225 to 97.

In a news release, the center's chief executive, Dr. Joe Thompson, noted that the results of most at-home tests aren't reported to the Health Department, which means "we are undercounting infections."

"The omicron surge does appear to be receding, but the virus is still present in all our communities, and we need to continue using all available tools to fight it: vaccination, good hand hygiene, social distancing, mask wearing in public places where social distancing cannot be maintained, and the best possible ventilation," Thompson said.

The cases used to calculate the rates for each district include those among residents living within the district, excluding incarcerated people, and residents of nursing homes and human development centers.


Statewide, Pulaski County on Thursday had the most new cases, 113, followed by Washington County with 104 and Benton County with 93.

The state's cumulative count of cases since March 2020 rose to 811,669.

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 grew Thursday by 45, to 35,245.

The number of the state's virus patients who have ever been on ventilators rose by 11, to 3,586.


The Health Department's tally of vaccine doses that had been administered rose by 4,019, which was larger by 154 than the daily increase a week earlier.

Booster shots made up 48% of the most recent increase.

The count of first doses rose by 752, which was smaller by 474 than the increase in first doses a week earlier.

After falling slightly a day earlier, the average number of total doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period rose Thursday to 2,860, which was up from less than 2,500 a day a week earlier but still down from more than 12,000 a day in early December.

The average for first doses fell to 840.

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 65.5%, and the percentage who had been fully vaccinated remained at 53.2%.

The percentage of those fully vaccinated who had received booster doses remained at 37.2%.

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, 76.1% of people had received at least one dose as of Thursday, and 64.6% were fully vaccinated.

Of the fully vaccinated population nationally, 43.1% had received booster doses.

 Gallery: Governor Press Conference

Print Headline: Arkansas' covid hospitalizations drop below 1,000


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