Virus cases declining, shots increasing

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson shares COVID-19 and vaccination statistics with reporters during his weekly update on Tuesday.

The number of new coronavirus cases continues to decline and the number of people receiving vaccines against the disease continues to go up, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said this week.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported a total of 1,475 new cases Tuesday, including 820 confirmed by laboratory testing. That brings the statewide total of positive tests either through lab or antigen testing to 308,848. Of those, 14,898 cases were still active.

The death toll rose to 5,148, an increase of 42. Among those were two deaths in Randolph and one in Greene County.

Hospitalizations dropped Tuesday to 775 statewide, down two from Monday. Of those 276 were listed in intensive care, which is an increase of two; and 137 were on ventilators, a decline of five. COVID hospitalizations in Northeast Arkansas rose by two to 83 from Monday’s report, 15 of whom were in the ICUs, unchanged. Three patients remained on ventilators, also unchanged.

To date, 12.8 percent of the state’s population has been immunized Hutchinson said. So far, about 10 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Both COVID-19 vaccines being distributed in the U.S. require two shots a few weeks apart to maximize protection. The need to give each person two doses a few weeks apart vastly complicates the country’s biggest-ever vaccination campaign. And persistent uncertainty about future vaccine supplies fuels worries that some people will not be able to get their second shots in time.

“Our first responders have been covered,” Hutchinson said during his weekly press conference on the state’s response to the virus. “Over 50 percent of our teachers and staff have had access to vaccination.”

The governor stressed he didn’t have hard numbers of educators who have received the shots, “but that’s my best estimate based upon the surveys we have taken across the state.”

All long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes have had clinics available to them, he said.

The number of new infections in nursing homes has dropped considerably in recent weeks. However, a report from the Arkansas Department of Health released Monday showed active cases among 26 residents and five workers at Sunshine Manor Retirement home in Paragould that were discovered last week.

Hutchinson said the Biden administration continues to increase allocations of the vaccines. However, one flaw in the national strategy he has seen is with having allocations for the states, then separate contracts with CVS and Walgreens to administer shots to some large nursing home chains, and now separate national contracts with Walmart and community health clinics, such as AR Care.

He said the nursing homes served by CVS and Walgreens were over-allocated.

The governor said he addressed the issue with the new president’s task force earlier Tuesday.

“And I advocated just increase the allocation for just the state and we can manage the program,” Hutchinson said. “We’re very efficient in getting it out and so give it to us and we can make the decisions as to making sure it is equitable, which we’re working toward.”

While case numbers are declining, local officials have begun a push for more testing.

Dr. Shane Speights, dean of NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, said it’s encouraging that case numbers are on the decline.

“However, we know that COVID is still being spread in our area and must remain vigilant if we want to see a true end to this pandemic,” Speights said in a news release.

“Testing is also the only way we can identify new COVID variants that might come into our state, and we know that ultimately will occur.”

Here are Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Tuesday:

Jackson – 2,400 confirmed (up 1), 712 probable (down 1); 54 active cases (down 10); 21 confirmed deaths, 11 probable.

Craighead – 10,907 confirmed (up 23 from Monday), 1,593 probable (up 12); 390 active cases (down 3); 154 confirmed deaths, 19 probable.

Greene – 4,538 confirmed (up 12), 1,171 probable (down 1); 240 active (down 44); 58 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

Lawrence – 1,598 confirmed (up 2); 361 probable (unchanged); 59 active (down 3); 37 confirmed deaths, 4 probable.

Poinsett – 2,637 confirmed (up 9), 386 probable (up 3); 96 active (down 6); 58 confirmed deaths), 16 probable.

Mississippi – 4,866 confirmed (up 13), 574 probable (up 3); 225 active cases (down 26); 93 confirmed deaths, 19 probable.

Randolph – 1,473 confirmed (up 1), 426 probable (up 1); 72 active cases (down 8); 35 confirmed deaths, 14 probable.

Cross – 1,466 confirmed (up 2), 396 probable (unchanged); 54 active cases (down 5); 44 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

Clay – 1,265 confirmed (up 2), 379 probable (down 1); 75 active cases (unchanged); 30 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

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