Arkansas COVID infections trending up, but hospitalizations continue falling
Arkansas reported about one-third more active cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday compared to the same day two weeks ago. But health officials say the latest subvariants impacting people are less severe than before, with hospitalizations continuing to fall.
The Arkansas Department of Health reported 134 new known infections, with the total number of active cases at 1,511. That compares with 995 active cases on Tuesday, April 19. There were also four additional deaths.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the department’s chief medical officer, said in an interview that new cases mostly involve people getting infected by continually evolving subvariants.
“What we are not seeing is an increase or a change in severity. So, a large proportion of the people who get infected with these subvariants do not have severe disease which is wonderful because that’s keeping our hospitalization rates low,” Dillaha said.
Hospitalizations statewide fell to 41 on Tuesday, which is the lowest number since March 26, 2020, after hovering around 50 since mid-April.
While fewer people are wearing masks and life is getting back to normal in many respects, Dillaha encourages people to stay up to date on their vaccines and for those who are eligible to get booster shots.
“COVID-19 is here to stay and so we will have COVID-19 spread in our communities on an ongoing basis,” Dillaha said. “Hopefully we can keep the spread low but this virus, especially the current ones that are circulating, are so infectious they will find people who don’t have good immunity.”
HEALTH SECRETARY’S FINAL DAY
Friday will be state Health Secretary Dr. José Romero’s last day leading the department. He has accepted a position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Dillaha said an announcement is expected soon from Gov. Asa Hutchinson about who will lead the department.
On Monday, Romero and Dillaha spoke at a joint meeting of the state House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees. He acknowledged the challenges that were faced and lessons learned since the pandemic arrived in Arkansas in March 2020.
At times, Romero and other health officials have been at odds with lawmakers about mask requirements and the closing of schools. But Romero told the legislators that serving as health secretary has been the best job he has ever had.
House committee chairman Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, offered praise to Romero and presented him with a letter thanking him for his leadership.
“You have been an invaluable source of scientific-based solutions and executive stewardship for the safety, protection and welfare of the public during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic in our state,” Ladyman’s letter said.
KUAR's Ronak Patel contributed to this report.