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Arkansas COVID hospitalizations fall to lowest level since November

UAMS Clinical Services Manager Deborah Hutts speaks to staffer at a morning huddle before they begin conducting coronavirus tests.
Michael Hibblen
UAMS Clinical Services Manager Deborah Hutts speaks to nurses at a morning huddle on July 23, 2020 before conducting COVID-19 tests.

Arkansas reported an additional 37 deaths Thursday from COVID-19. It was the third consecutive day of deaths being in that range, with the Department of Health reporting 39 deaths on Wednesday and 36 deaths on Tuesday.

But overall, cases continue declining, with hospitalizations falling to the lowest level in nearly four months. As recoveries and deaths outpace new infections, the number of known active cases dropped by 98 since Wednesday to 2,444 people.

“That’s very good news for everyone. The risk of catching COVID in our community is so much lower than it was two months ago,” said Dr. Joel Tumlison, a physician with the department’s Immunization and Outbreak Response division.

He noted in an interview with KUAR News that the number of people being treated on Thursday dropped below 300 for the first time since November. 280 people were hospitalized statewide.

The number of patients had surpassed 1,800 in January, which left hospitals struggling to manage the load. Thursday’s total was the lowest number of hospitalizations since Nov. 16, before the omicron variant was detected in the state the following month.

“That’s a big relief for [hospitals]. They’re able to return to a more normal mode of operations,” Tumlison said. “Certainly, they’re still taking care of COVID patients, but not the overwhelming quantity.”

The number of people with the disease had forced hospitals to delay elective procedures and other basic healthcare needs.

“They’re being able to get back to those things, and that’s good news for all of us,” Tumlison said.

But the number of deaths remains high, with 112 reported between Tuesday and Thursday, pushing the toll since the start of the pandemic two years ago this month to 10,836.

While deaths are a lagging indicator, coming after someone becomes infected and eventually succumbs to the disease, Dr. Tumlison said the daily numbers aren’t always indicative of a clear pattern.

“Part of that is due to the way that deaths are reported. Some of those reports end up coming in very slowly, that we find out about them, so the final numbers end up being very different two weeks from now than they look right now,. So, it can be hard to judge when that peak hit,” Tumlison said.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.