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COVID deaths reported in Arkansas are increasing, active cases continue falling

Megan Delong, an epidemiologist with the Arkansas Department of Health, was the third person to receive a vaccine Monday. Afterward she said, "It was very exciting to be one of the first."
Michael Hibblen
Megan Delong, an epidemiologist with the Arkansas Department of Health, receiving the first vaccine that was available for COVID-19 on Dec. 14, 2020. With new booster shots available, the department is encouraging people to talk with their healthcare providers about whether to receive one.

Arkansas reported 18 additional deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, pushing the total over the last three days to 53. On Tuesday – which saw the largest one-day increase in more than five months – the state surpassed 12,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

The Department of Health says most of the deaths included in data this week occurred in previous months.

“While we hate reporting that level of deaths, it is coming from that surge that occurred during the summertime,” said state Epidemiologist Dr. Mike Cima. “It takes a while for those death certificates to get reported to us and subsequently reported out to the public.

Tuesday’s high number was also the result of the department last weekend ending the practice of reporting deaths on Saturdays and Sundays, he said in an interview with KUAR News.

But the number of active cases and hospitalizations more accurately reflect the current situation in the state, Cima said. The department’s website showed active cases fell by 274 people on Thursday for a total of 7,348 – the lowest number since June 14.

Hospitalizations declined by three, with 286 people being treated statewide.

“Since we hit our peak of over 400 individuals hospitalized in July and August, the trend is still down. Overall, I think the situation with COVID-19 in Arkansas is consistently decreasing with our active cases, and I believe that hospitalizations will soon follow suit,” Cima said.

New vaccine booster shots available

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved new vaccine booster shots that were made developed to confront the latest subvariants blamed for easy transmission of the virus over the summer. The bivalent shots are now widely available in Arkansas, with the department encouraging people who are eligible to talk with their healthcare providers and make an informed decision about whether to get one.

Cima said he had received his booster shot on Thursday, which was the first one he had been able to receive in over a year.

“I’m excited about the fact that it does cover some very specific variants, as well as the original strain of SARS CoV-2, but in particular, the BA.4 and BA.5 variants which make up greater than 90% of all the variants that are found, not just in Arkansas, but the country,” he said.

It’s recommended people wait at least two months between COVID vaccine or booster shots. Those who were recently infected with the coronavirus should also wait the same amount of time.

Cima said the department will be monitoring all data related to the vaccine to judge its effectiveness and any adverse side effects. He said people staying up to date on vaccinations “is the single most important thing that you can do to prevent the worst effects from this virus.”

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.
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