Arkansas reported 503 new covid-19 cases on Sunday, a decline from the record-setting 1,061 new cases reported in the state a day earlier, according to the Department of Health.
At the same time, the state saw the number of active covid-19 cases rise by 100, bringing the total number of infected individuals who have neither recovered nor died to 6,455.
The Department of Health reported two additional deaths from covid-19, bringing the state's total since the start of the pandemic to 321.
A week after the Fourth of July holiday weekend, new cases of covid-19 are surging in many locations across the country.
Nine states, including Oregon, Texas, Idaho, South Carolina and Wisconsin, reported record-setting single-day totals of new covid-19 cases on Saturday, The Washington Post reported. And on Sunday, Florida set a single-day national record for new cases identified in one state since the start of the pandemic, with 15,299 new cases reported.
"I think one of the mistakes we have made in this country is that when we began to open up the economy, people went back to their previous ways of conducting their daily lives," Arkansas epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday.
In order to open up places of business, it was important for people to maintain physical distancing and wear cloth masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Dillaha said. But those guidelines were not always followed, she suggested.
"So that has, I think, been our greatest failing, is that we in the U.S. -- including Arkansas -- we have not been diligent about those kinds of behavior changes," Dillaha said. "We've reverted back to the way we were doing things before covid-19 hit. And that's not going to get us where we want to go in terms of controlling the spread of this virus."
In a statement released Saturday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the spike over the weekend "very concerning." He suggested the increase "may be the result of the July 4th celebrations."
"Regardless, it is a reminder of the challenge we continue to face. As we dig deeper into the data, I will have further comments on Monday," Hutchinson said in the statement.
Dillaha said "the timing is right" when asked if the spike in cases can be tied to activities that took place over the Fourth of July holiday.
"We know that there have been some activities related to the Fourth [of] July that some cases are tied to," Dillaha said. "But it's mostly timing," she added, explaining that covid-19 symptoms typically begin to appear five days after someone is infected.
Hutchinson has so far declined to issue a statewide order requiring residents of Arkansas to wear masks in public, although in a July 3 order, the governor allowed individual cities in Arkansas to adopt an ordinance mandating masks.
In two neighboring states, broad mask orders go into effect today. One, from Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, requires residents to wear masks in public -- with the exception of parishes with low rates of infection per 100,000 people, where local officials can opt out. And in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves is mandating masks in 13 counties in that state.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a broad statewide order requiring masks in most counties effective July 3.
When asked what it would take for Arkansas officials to impose broader measures like a statewide order on masks or a return to a modified lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Dillaha responded by saying the governor and Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith have been monitoring hospital capacity.
Dillaha acknowledged that the increase of more than 1,000 new cases Saturday was concerning to the governor.
"We'll be very interested to see how the trend goes this next week. I think that it will be very telling about the direction we're headed," she said.
In addition to the 451 cases reported in the community on Sunday, 52 of the new covid-19 cases were in correctional facilities, according to Department of Health spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill. She said the breakdown of new case numbers for each facility was not yet available.
The positivity rate for covid-19 tests conducted between Saturday and Sunday was 7.8%, McNeill said. That rate represented a slight dip from last week, when the test positivity rate in Arkansas had edged close to 11% on Thursday and Friday.
Cases increased by 70 in Washington County, 54 in Benton County, 53 in Hot Spring County, 52 in Pulaski County, 28 in Sebastian County, 14 in Pope County, 13 in Saline County, 10 in Mississippi County, eight in Crittenden County, seven in Sevier County, six in Cross County and four in Yell County.
The two additional deaths occurred in Crawford and Lee counties, according to McNeill.
Dillaha said new case numbers may rise today and Tuesday as results are returned from mass testing conducted over the weekend. She said officials expect to see a larger number of tests performed, and "a proportion of those will be positive for covid-19."
"So I would think that tomorrow and the next day, we may see higher numbers than what we've seen today," Dillaha added.
Elsewhere, an employee of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District has tested positive for covid-19, the district announced Saturday.
According to a news release, the employee reported to work on Thursday and came in contact with staff members and students. The district said the staff members and students were wearing masks at the time. The district learned of the staffer's positive test result on Saturday morning, the release said.
Activities at the work location have been suspended in order to conduct disinfection efforts before the return of students and staff members, the district said.
The school district did not name the individual who tested positive or identify his or her work location, citing federal regulations.
Another staff member in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District tested positive for the virus in late May.
In a news briefing on Thursday, Hutchinson and Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key announced that K-12 schools will reopen in the fall between Aug. 24-26, a two-week delay from the anticipated start date of Aug. 13.
Information for this article was contributed by Andy Davis of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.