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story.lead_photo.caption Registered nurses Amanda Velasquez (left) and Ursula Dixon take swabs from a couple in April at a drive-up coronavirus testing site at Arkansas Surgical Hospital in North Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

The number of people in Arkansas hospitals with covid-19 increased by 22 on Sunday to a record high of 576.

The state set records for covid-19 hospitalizations in five of the past six days.

Arkansas coronavirus hospitalizations were at record levels Tuesday through Friday before dropping slightly (by six) on Saturday.

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The number of total cases of coronavirus increased by 613 on Sunday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. But that's less than half of the record-setting jump of 1,265 cases on Thursday.

The death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Health Department, rose by 17, to 1,569 in Sunday's report. Total active cases increased by 66 to 7,801. A total of 530 Arkansans were newly listed as having recovered from the virus.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday morning, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was concerned about the increase in hospitalizations.

"We still have capacity," Hutchinson told CNN's Jake Tapper. "But with the onset of flu season, you not only have to follow the guidelines in reference to covid, everybody needs to get their flu shot. So we're continuing to do everything we can. The main thing is you take it seriously."

Hutchinson said people need to be able to go about their "life activities," but they need to keep their distance or wear masks.

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"People cannot be shut up for seven months. They've got to live life," he told CNN. "But we have to do that with the social distancing."

In a Tweet on Sunday afternoon, Hutchinson said, "We continue to test at a very high level, already surpassing 100,000 PCR tests this month. New cases lead to new hospitalizations, so please continue to follow the Department of Health guidelines."

The governor was referring to polymerase chain-reaction tests, which are used to confirm cases of the coronavirus.

Besides cases confirmed through PCR testing, the 613 new cases on Sunday includes 59 probable positive cases through less-sensitive antigen testing.

STAFFING STRAINED

State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said the spike in hospitalizations wasn't surprising because Arkansas had an increase in cases about a week ago, and people who become severely ill from the coronavirus usually don't go to the hospital until a few days after they start having symptoms.

She said the state has plenty of hospital beds.

"The concern is the staffing," said Dillaha.

Many nurses travel from one state to another for work. Dillaha said Arkansas may end up having to compete with other states for nurses.

Dillaha said the daily counts can fluctuate based on a variety of factors. That's why the governor cites a seven-day rolling average in his press briefings, she said, but a new seven-day rolling average analysis wasn't available on Sunday. She said the seven-day rolling average had been going down until Oct. 5, when it increased slightly.

The number of Arkansas hospital patients on ventilators increased by one on Sunday to 99.

"We're not really worried about our ventilator capacity at this time," said Dillaha. "We are worried a little bit about our ICU capacity around the state. ... The hospitals are managing right now under the current load, but we certainly don't want to add to the current load if we can avoid it."

The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with the virus rose by 10, to 5,910. The number who have ever been on ventilators rose by one, to 731.

The cumulative case count of 92,833 includes 88,302 confirmed cases and 4,531 probable ones.

CASES BY COUNTY

Counties with the most new confirmed cases in Sunday's report were Pulaski with 99, Crawford with 29, Craighead with 25, Washington with 23 and Benton with 21.

Among prison and jail inmates, the number of cases rose by 41. Such increases can reflect new cases or ones that were added earlier but were not immediately classified as coming from a jail or prison. Cases among inmates are also sometimes added several days after a test is conducted, after information from laboratory reports is entered into a state database.

According to the Health Department, there have been 1,569 deaths in Arkansas associated with covid-19. Of that number, 558 were at nursing homes and 47 were at correctional facilities. Of those who have died from the coronavirus in Arkansas, 75% of them were age 65 or over, and 14.5% were age 55-64.

The total number of coronavirus tests administered in Arkansas was 1,174,564 as of Sunday, with 7.7% of PCR tests being positive compared to 17.9% of antigen tests. The vast majority of tests done in the state (more than 1.1 million) were PCR tests.

MASKS AND DISTANCE

Arkansans have been taking the coronavirus more seriously since it swept through the White House after a Sept. 26 event in the Rose Garden, Hutchinson told CNN on Sunday.

Several people, including President Donald Trump, tested positive for the coronavirus after the nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden. Few people at the outdoor event wore masks or kept their social distance. Afterwards, there was a reception inside the White House.

"After the White House challenge that we saw and the cases that arose from that event with the president, people are taking it very seriously, even more so than ever, wearing the masks," Hutchinson, speaking from Fayetteville, told CNN. "It is getting better and we want it to continue to."

CNN's Tapper asked Hutchinson if he'd want his family to attend a Trump rally in Arkansas if mask wearing and social distancing weren't required.

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"They offer masks," said Hutchinson. "They do screenings whenever they come to the rallies. Certainly we want to have an engagement in the presidential campaign this year ... but yes, there should not be any mass gathering without social distancing. The social distancing is so important. Or wear a mask. If you're going to sit next to somebody, wear a mask. It's important that, we have seen by illustration the challenge of the virus at a spreader event when you don't socially distance. We also can utilize this as an example, in other words a teaching moment."

WINTER

Dillaha said the situation could get worse as the state heads into winter.

"I would expect we would see an increase because more people will be engaging in social activities indoors," she said. "The wintertime will offer plenty of opportunity for this virus to spread. We need to be realistic that this could be a difficult winter for many people and we all need to work hard to help each other and get ready."

Dillaha said outdoor fire pits might be one option for restaurants to provide a comfortable dining atmosphere outside.

"I think if we are creative we can come up with ways to maintain our social connected-ness, and that's important for our mental and emotional health," she said. "We've had consistently high community spread. It is not good. From what I'm hearing, many people have been letting their guards down. I think it has to do with the toll this pandemic is taking on people, that need for emotional and social support that they're lacking."

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