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Hutchinson says weather has impacted COVID testing, updates on vaccines, public health directives

by Caitlan Butler | February 17, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson discusses the current and upcoming weather during his weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The Arkansas Department of Health reported one fewer COVID-19 case in Union County Tuesday than had been reported Monday, likely because it was moved to another county after more information about the case was established, an ADH spokesperson said. There were 3,594 total COVID-19 cases reported for the county Tuesday.

The case removed from Union County’s total was a confirmed case; in total, 2,776 of those have been identified in the county, while 818 probable cases have been identified locally.

The United States Centers for Disease Control considers positive results from PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests to be confirmed cases and positive results from antigen (rapid) tests to be probable cases.

Active cases fell Tuesday to their lowest level in some time, dropping by 44 to reach 107; they represented 3% of all the cases identified locally and included 79 confirmed cases and 28 probable cases. There were 3,389 Union County residents considered recovered from the virus Tuesday, up 43 from Monday.

A report on COVID cases in educational institutions produced by the ADH on Feb. 15 showed five or more active cases in the El Dorado, Junction City and Smackover-Norphlet school districts.

According to the report, as of Feb. 15, there were 14 active cases in the ESD, where a total of 286 cases, 89 in staff and faculty and 186 in students, have been identified. In the JCSD, where 52 total cases, 16 in staff and 36 in students, have been identified, there were five active virus cases reported. In the SNSD, there were also five active cases reported; there, a total of 137 cases have been identified, including 30 in staff and faculty and 101 in students.

A report on COVID cases in nursing homes produced by the ADH on Tuesday listed Hudson Memorial Nursing Home and Timberlane Health and Rehab having active COVID cases among residents and workers.

According to the report, as of Tuesday, Hudson reported five active resident cases and eight active worker cases, with the most recent positive test results for both groups having returned on Feb. 3. A total of 67 residents and 51 workers at Hudson have contracted the virus, and 21 residents have died as a result.

Timberlane reported four active resident cases and two active worker cases. The most recent positive test results for a resident returned on Feb. 5, and for a worker, on Jan. 26. In total, 74 residents and 42 workers have contracted the virus at Timberlane, and 10 residents have died as a result.

No new local deaths caused by COVID-19 were reported Tuesday. Ninety-eight Union County residents have died as a result of the virus. There were 110 people hospitalized Tuesday in the Southwest hospital region of the state, where Union County is located, including 50 in intensive care units and 20 on ventilator support.

The ADH reported 34 new negative test results returned from Union County Tuesday. In all 29,109 COVID-19 test results have returned from Union County, including 25,515 negatives, indicating an overall local positivity rate of 12.3%.

Arkansas added 177 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday to its cumulative total, which reached 313,525. The cases in the state Tuesday included 248,445 confirmed cases, up 94 from Monday, and 65,080 probable cases, up 83 from Monday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that because of the winter weather, COVID-19 testing, and as a result, the reported number of new cases, has dropped.

“This is not very significant in terms of meaning,” he said, referring to the number of new cases reported Tuesday, “because as you can see, the testing was so depleted from yesterday with the bad weather, having only about 2,200 tests that were given.”

However, he said the number of hospitalizations could be a better indicator of the progress the state is making on COVID. On Tuesday, the number of COVID-related hospitalizations dropped by four to reach 638.

“This reflects the number of people who are ill and need hospital care,” he said.

Hutchinson said two COVID-related public health directives were to be updated Tuesday.

One will allow indoor events to be held without an ADH-approved plan for under 100 attendees; before Tuesday, only events with under 10 attendees didn’t need an approved plan. The other directive makes playing sports less restricted.

“There’s still guidelines to follow, but this should be helpful to everyone,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said he learned Tuesday in a call with the White House Coronavirus Task Force that vaccine allocations will increase by 6,000-7,000 doses in Arkansas starting this week or next.

“This is the largest weekly increase of our vaccine since our vaccine program was started,” he said.

ADH Secretary Dr. Jose Romero commended Arkansas on reducing the number of new COVID cases identified in the state over the past few weeks, but urged continued caution in light of new virus variants that are spreading throughout the country.

“We’ve done very well with regard to our (hospital) bed reserve. The cases have gone down,” Romero said. “I want to remind everyone that we still have the concern about our variant viruses. They are in this country. We have not found one here in Arkansas yet but we believe they are present. That means our physical mitigation measures need to continue.”

He recommended that Arkansans maintain social distancing of 6 feet or more in public spaces, wash their hands frequently and wear a mask, noting that the United States Centers for Disease Control now recommends people wear a cloth mask over an additional paper mask for added protection.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Arkansas dropped to 9,104 Tuesday, down 1,390 from Monday; they represented 2.9% of all the cases identified in the state and included 6,423 confirmed cases and 2,681 probable cases.

“They are below 10,000 for the first time in a long time. This is great news for us,” Hutchinson said.

There were 299,107 Arkansans considered recovered from the virus Tuesday, up 1,545 from Monday.

The deaths of 12 Arkansans that resulted from COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, bringing the state’s death toll to 5,287, indicating a state COVID mortality rate of 1.7%. Of the 638 Arkansans hospitalized due to the virus Tuesday, 250 were in ICUs and 110 were on ventilator support.

The ADH reported 2,232 new COVID-19 test results returned Tuesday and 174,852 returned so far this month. Since the state began testing for the virus, 3,003,299 results have returned to the ADH, including 2,678,432 negatives, indicating an overall positivity rate for the state of 10.4%.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 481,511 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines had been administered in Arkansas.

At 1:25 p.m. Tuesday, Johns Hopkins University reported 27,716,853 COVID-19 cases in the United States. Data wasn’t available then on the number of U.S. residents considered recovered from the virus or the number of active cases in the country. There had been 486,812 deaths attributable to the virus reported by Tuesday afternoon, indicating a national COVID mortality rate of 1.8%.

Johns Hopkins reported 109,337,895 COVID-19 cases worldwide Tuesday. There were 61,486,851 people considered recovered from the virus Tuesday, leaving 45,437,760 cases — 41.6% — active around the world. There had been 2,413,284 deaths attributable to the virus reported by Tuesday afternoon, indicating a global COVID mortality rate of 2.2%.

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