Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose Thursday by 1,202 -- the third-largest one-day increase since the start of the pandemic.
The death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by 21, to 1,772.
"I continue to watch the week-to-week trends," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement on the day's numbers.
"Last Thursday, we reported 1,278 new cases. Today, there is a slight decrease to 1,202 new cases. If the trend continues similar to last week, then we will see around 1,000 new cases tomorrow. Let's work to beat last week's numbers as we are challenged in this pandemic."
He added that he spoke Thursday with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about "vaccine distribution plans."
"There is hope on the horizon," the Republican governor said.
Although a vaccine has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Arkansas submitted its "interim draft" vaccination plan to the federal government Oct. 16.
Meanwhile, a Health Department document shows that closing bars and restaurants to on-site dining, restricting social gatherings and moving to virtual education are among the options the department presented to Hutchinson this month for curbing the spread of the virus.
Hutchinson mentioned at one of his weekly news conferences on the pandemic that he had been presented with options but didn't list all of them.
The Health Department provided the list to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday in response to a request under the state Freedom of Information Act.
The options included:
• Increasing the frequency of Hutchinson's news conferences on the virus, which until mid-September were held every weekday.
• Changing the state's public health messages to include avoiding groups of more than 10 people.
• Reducing the size of gatherings allowed in indoor and outdoor venues.
• Encouraging local enforcement of the state mask requirement.
• Implementing a 28-day "pause" that would include barring gatherings of more than 10 people, moving to virtual education and closing restaurants and bars to on-site service.
Health Department spokesman Gavin Lesnick said the document was presented to Hutchinson on Oct. 9.
CLOSURES NOT 'AN OPTION'
Bars and restaurant dining rooms were closed and gatherings of more than 10 people were prohibited for several weeks earlier this year until the state began easing such measures in May.
At the Oct. 13 news conference in Hope, Hutchinson said he had taken steps to increase enforcement of the state's public health guidelines and could take additional action if needed.
"I will add that there's not really an option to go back on our opening of businesses," the governor said then. "We're way past that in Europe, in the United States, here in Arkansas."
Instead, he said, "The ultimate solution is to follow those guidelines to make sure that we're doing what we can through individual responsibility of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing, avoiding large crowds unless the protections are in place."
In a statement Thursday, Hutchinson said he agreed with the need to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and contended that he had "emphasized that message in my public statements."
"In terms of further specific restrictions, [state Epidemiologist] Dr. [Jennifer] Dillaha and others have pointed out that there seems to be a connection between large family gatherings and the spread of the virus. This would be impossible to regulate and the family activities within the home should not be subject to specific restrictions. We will continue to encourage and educate the public about the need to be careful in the home setting as well as the public arena."
After reaching a high of 637 on Tuesday, the number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 fell to 636 on Wednesday and 612 on Thursday.
Those patients included 96 who were on ventilators, down from 99 a day earlier.
Dillaha said the drop in the number of patients in the hospital was "a good thing," although she noted that it came even as 92 new patients were admitted.
"That means a lot of people got out, and then of course some people didn't get out -- they passed away," she said.
She said the daily increases in cases have hit "kind of a high plateau" in which the number of people taking recommended precautions is enough to prevent the growth rate from escalating rapidly, but not enough to reduce it to a lower level.
"My hope is that people will get really serious about this," she said.
"I think right now there's enough people who are not serious about it that it poses a problem for the rest of the people who are serious about it."
She said Arkansans should assume they could be infected, wear a mask when in public and keep a safe distance from others to avoid catching or transmitting the virus.
Until the situation improves, she said people should also consider avoiding groups and "not making unnecessary trips out in public."
She said Arkansans also can help by limiting the number of people they invite to social events and "requesting people to leave the party if they're not keeping everyone safe."
"I do think that people have some ability to promote these behaviors, or enforce those behaviors in their areas of influence," she said.
ACTIVE CASES RISE
The state's count of cases confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, rose Thursday by 893, to 96,292.
The tally of "probable" cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests, rose by 309, to 6,506.
The combined increase in confirmed and probable cases was the largest since the record 1,278 that were added to the state's tallies a week earlier.
It was just one of three one-day increases that have topped 1,200. The other was a jump of 1,265 cases on Oct. 8.
The state's cumulative count of confirmed or probable cases rose Thursday to 102,798.
The number of cases that were considered active rose by 210, to 8,730, as 971 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.
The death toll rose by 17, to 1,616, among confirmed cases and by four, to 156, among probable cases.
Despite the different classifications, the Health Department has said it treats confirmed and probable cases the same for the purposes of its contact-tracing efforts.
That includes requiring people whose results are positive from either type of test to isolate themselves and for those they may have infected to quarantine.
CASES BY COUNTY
The count of confirmed and probable cases rose by 130 in Pulaski County, 94 in Benton County, 81 in Craighead County, 66 in Lincoln County, and 57 in Washington County.
Among prison and jail inmates, the count of cases rose by 90.
Such increases can reflect new cases or ones that were added earlier but 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.
Over a rolling seven-day period, the average number of confirmed and probable cases added to the state tallies each day fell by 11, to 896.
The count of virus deaths rose by three in Washington County and by two each in Benton, Mississippi and Union counties.
The death toll rose by one each in Cleburne, Faulkner, Independence, Jefferson, Logan, Madison, Newton, Ouachita, Phillips, Polk, Pulaski and Saline counties.
The count of virus deaths rose by one, to four, among Arkansans age 18-24; by one, to 46,, among those 35-44; by five, to 255, among those 55-64; and by 14, to 1,326, among those 65 or older.
Among nursing home and assisted-living facility residents, the state's count of virus deaths rose by seven, to 659.
Virus cases prompted shifts to virtual instruction Thursday for a school district in Hartman, a charter high school in Little Rock and a junior high in Pocahontas.
Johnson County Westside School District in Hartman made the shift after learning of covid-19 cases late Wednesday, Superintendent Brad Kent said.
He said the move would allow time for contact tracing and for buildings to be cleaned.
"What our fear was is that we would not be able to make contact with all those that needed to be quarantined before the start of school," Kent said. "We wanted to make sure we had enough time to tell people they had been exposed."
Students are scheduled to return to class Monday, he said.
Lisa Academy West High School, part of the Lisa Academy Public Charter school system in Little Rock, is shifting to virtual learning today through Monday, Assistant Superintendent Luanne Baroni said.
Students will return to classrooms Tuesday.
"We have too many staff in quarantine to be able to function effectively," Baroni said.
Finding substitutes "is a real challenge for everyone," she said.
She said West High School would undergo a deep cleaning today and Monday while administrators work to shift faculty members around to fill vacant spots from quarantines.
She said the high school has fewer than five cases; however, there are more than five teachers quarantined.
"We will do a deep clean because hopefully that will head off any kind of spread," Baroni said. "We are being overly cautious."
Pocahontas Junior High, part of the Pocahontas School District, shifted to virtual instruction "due to a high number of faculty and staff member absences and a shortage of substitute teachers," the school's Facebook page said. Students returned to face-to-face instruction today.
Biweekly Health Department reports listed 65 public school districts as having at least five active cases as of Thursday, up from 57 on Monday.
Between the two dates, the number of cases among students and employees grew by 519, to 7,546.
Those cases included 987 that were active as of Thursday, up from 879 on Monday.
The Springdale School District topped the list with 62 active cases, an increase from 50 active cases Monday.
The Little Rock School District was second with 33 active cases.
At private schools, the number of active cases fell from Monday to Thursday by 11, to 66.
In its daily covid-19 update, the Little Rock district said one employee at Southwest High School and one at Metropolitan Career-Technical Center had tested positive.
One employee at the vocational school was also required to quarantine, as were 10 students and six employees at other Little Rock schools.
At colleges and universities, the number of active cases fell from 436 on Monday to 394 on Thursday, according to Health Department reports.
Harding University, a private Christian university in Searcy, topped the list with 50 active cases, down from 75 in Monday's statewide report.
Harding this fall has 4,544 students, according to preliminary enrollment totals released by the state Division of Higher Education.
Schools have often reported active case totals differently from state health authorities. Harding on its website Thursday listed 26 active student cases and four active employee cases.
Another private university, Hendrix College, on Oct. 16 announced its reopening plan for in-person instruction in its spring semester.
Hendrix, a liberal arts college in Conway, enrolled about 1,066 undergraduate students this fall but asked them to stay home because of the pandemic. Classes are being held remotely.
In the spring, the college will have students living on campus be tested for covid-19 upon arrival, according to the plan published online.
Information for this article was contributed by Jaime Adame of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.