Arkansas again set a record with 12,990 new COVID-19 cases reported Thursday (Jan. 13) by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). Of the total new cases, 25.6% were from two counties, Pulaski (1,878) and Washington (1,453).
Additionally, the state’s business sector received mixed messages from two U.S. Supreme Court rulings on vaccine mandates.
The ADH also showed 8,214 active cases, bringing the known total to 79,348. Deaths rose by 18 to a cumulative of 9,390 since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations rose by 66 to 1,251, and COVID patients on ventilators rose by three to a total of 170. The record for COVID hospitalizations was 1,371 on Jan. 11, 2021.
The ADH also reported 32 available ICU beds in Arkansas among the 1,144 total beds. The available number was up from 26 on Wednesday.
Also, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) reported Thursday that 97% of the state’s school districts have infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period. The ACHI used ADH data from as recent as Monday.
“The analysis adds only two days’ worth of new data since ACHI released a special report Monday, which was based on ADH data from Saturday. The total number of school districts with 14-day infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents is unchanged from the special report but is up 88 from last week’s total of 138, which was based on ADH data from Jan. 3,” ACHI noted in its report.
New case counts rose so much that ACHI has added the color pink to its chart to show an infection rate of 200 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over the past 14 days, or at least 2% of the district’s population. In some districts, nearly 5% of residents in the local community are known to be infected.
The previous record for school districts with 14-day COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents was 201, which was reached last January and again in August.
Of the 226 districts with 14-day infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents, 48 districts have 50 to 99 new known infections per 10,000 residents (red on ACHI’s map); 120 districts have 100 to 199 new known infections per 10,000 residents (purple); and 58 districts have 200 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents (pink). The numbers of districts in purple and pink increased by 10 and three, respectively, since Monday’s special report.
U.S. SUPREME COURT RULES ON VACCINE MANDATES
Also on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-testing requirement aimed at large businesses; however, it allowed a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers to go into effect.
The nation’s high court allowed a stay of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule that required workers at employers with more than 100 employees to be fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing. There were exemptions for religious objections.
In the 6-3 ruling, the majority said: “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.”
The continuance of the stay did not decide the merits of the case, but it keeps it from going into effect until a final court ruling.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court allowed a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy to take effect. It requires COVID-19 vaccines for certain health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding, subject to religious or medical exemptions.