The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) on Thursday (Dec. 30) reported a record 4,978 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours. The record follows 3,743 new cases Wednesday, which was the third-highest daily rate.
Arkansas’ previous surge peaked in late December 2020 and January 2021 with a record 4,304 new cases reported on Jan. 1, a record 27,822 active cases posted Jan. 9, and a record 1,371 hospitalizations reported on Jan. 11. A record of 66 deaths was reported on Dec. 29.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said despite the historic COVID surge in daily cases, primarily attributed to the more transmissible Omicron variant, he is “committed to in-school classroom instruction.” He also said he opposes delaying the opening date. Most public schools in the state are set to open to students on Jan. 4.
“We need to start. Part of it is the routine of life. Part of it is the need to educate our children. We had some deficiencies when we went virtual, so we need to start our school. They’re (school administrators) prepared, (and) have put in the precautions we had before. We’ve been through this before. We can be prepared again,” the governor said Thursday during his weekly press briefing.
The total number of positive infections since the pandemic began is 562,529, or 18.6% of the state population. Active cases rose by 4,031 to a total of 18,644 in Thursday’s report. Deaths rose by 18 to 9,131. There are 585 COVID hospitalizations, unchanged since Wednesday, with patients on ventilators declining by six to 104. The ADH also reports that 53% of eligible Arkansans are fully vaccinated, with 12.4% partially vaccinated. The data also shows that 84% of new cases, 87% of hospitalizations, and 85% of deaths are among the unvaccinated.
Gov. Hutchinson said the numbers show the Omicron variant does not appear to lead to hospitalizations as did the Delta variant. However, he said he has “started the conversation” about preparing not only hospital space but more healthcare staff. The ADH on Thursday reported 66 available ICU beds statewide, down from 73 on Wednesday but up from 50 on Tuesday.
“We are planning and preparing in the event that (reacting to a rise in hospitalizations) is required,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
The governor also said the state is spending $10 million from the ADH COVID response budget to buy 1.5 million home rapid test kits. He said there is not a specific date for when they will arrive but has been promised by the supplier they will be delivered in “a short amount of time.” He said the kits will be sent to libraries around the state and to county health units. He also is activating 10 National Guard members to be ready to help deliver the kits when received by the state.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said the kits are from Mountain View, Calif.-based iHealth Labs. The company said the tests are a four-step, 15-minute process. Gov. Hutchinson said state officials are working on guidelines related to how many kits will be available per household.
The governor also said the kits should help relieve testing demand that now pulls needed healthcare workers from hospitals and clinics to testing centers.
Gov. Hutchinson and Romero also said the state has a low supply of monoclonal antibody treatments. Specifically, the state has a limited inventory of Sotrovimab, which is the “drug of choice” in terms of effectiveness, Romero said. He also said the oral antivirals of Molnupiravir and Paxlovid also are in short supply.