Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose Thursday by 1,086, the largest one-day increase in almost two weeks and the third-highest since the start of the pandemic.
The death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by 17, to 1,246.
The increase in cases included 1,030 that were confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests.
The other 56 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests.
"Today's report of 1,030 new PCR positive COVID-19 cases serves as a caution to everyone who is out and about engaging in work, school, and recreation," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.
"We need to take responsibility, and we need to support the need for isolation or quarantine when required. We have limited tools to stop the spread, and our self-isolation when needed and our social distancing will be successful if we all do our part."
State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said the increase is "worrisome to me."
"I would like to see it much lower, of course," she said. "I think it's as we've been saying -- it indicates that we have community spread that's all over Arkansas, really."
Although 62 people were newly admitted to hospitals with covid-19, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell by 11, to 457, as others were discharged or died.
The number of patients on ventilators rose by seven, to 97.
The state's cumulative hospitalizations rose to 5,160, while the number of covid-19 patients who have ever been on a ventilator grew by 10, to 650.
All 17 deaths added to the official count were of confirmed cases, rasing the count of deaths among such cases to 1,097. The count of virus deaths also includes 149 that were among probable cases.
Despite the different classifications, the Health Department has said that it treats confirmed and probable cases the same for the purposes of its contact-tracing efforts.
Four of the 17 deaths added to the total on Thursday happened in August but weren't immediately reported, Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said.
Among nursing-home residents, the state's count of virus deaths increased by seven, to 395.
The cumulative case count rose to 79,049, including 76,676 that were confirmed and 2,373 probable cases.
The number of confirmed or probable case that were considered active rose by 284, to 7,061, as 785 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.
WEDDING SHOWER CLUSTER
The increase in confirmed or probable cases was the largest since the record 1,180 that were added on Sept. 11.
According to Health Department figures, it was just the sixth one-day increase in the state that has topped 1,000.
The increases on two other days -- one in July and one in August -- were initially announced as being more than 1,000, but those were reduced after the department in August removed 1,200 cases from its count that were determined to be among people who live outside Arkansas.
Dillaha said she continues to hear about people catching the virus at social gatherings where people aren't following health guidelines.
A recent wedding shower is one example, she said.
"People got together and didn't use social distancing, and they didn't wear face masks and there were cases that occurred as a result," she said.
She said the virus also has been spread among members of some high school and college sports teams.
"It's not always clear when I hear about those whether the team got them during practice or they were engaging in social events outside of their team activities and acquired the infection that way," she said.
With Halloween approaching next month, she said, Arkansans should think about ways of celebrating that don't risk spreading the virus.
That could include holding events outdoors and dispensing candy in "individual bags that children can pick up without having to come within 6 feet" of the person giving it away, Dillaha said.
The Health Department's count of confirmed and probable cases increased Thursday by 100 in Pulaski County; 75 in Jefferson County; 72 in Washington County; 59 in Benton County; and 55 in Craighead County.
Among prison and jail inmates, the count of cases rose by 28. 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.
From Tuesday to Thursday, the number of cases among inmates listed in Health Department reports increased by 19, to 64, at the Department of Corrections' North Central Unit in Calico Rock; by three, to 58, at the Maximum Security Unit in Jefferson County; by two, to 24, at the McPherson Unit in Newport; and by two, to 1,317 at the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern.
Also on Thursday, a prisoner from the Maximum Security Unit who was being treated at UAMS Medical Center in Little Rock became the state's 41st inmate to die from the virus, the Corrections Department announced.
The inmate was in his late 50s and serving a 25-year sentence for kidnapping, the department said.
At the Conway Human Development Center, one of the state's five centers for people with severe developmental disabilities, the number of residents who have tested positive increased by 17, to 174, from Tuesday to Thursday, according to Health Department reports.
Meanwhile, state officials said Thursday that the first cases among residents at the Veterans Home at North Little Rock were discovered this week when four residents tested positive for the coronavirus.
Austin Booth, chief of staff for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said the residents were tested Monday because of their proximity to staff members who had tested positive, with the results for the residents coming back Wednesday.
Staff members at the home are tested weekly "as part of our COVID surveillance plan and ADH directive," Veterans Affairs spokesman Sue Harper said in an email.
A total of nine staff members at the home have tested positive, including three whose infections were active as of Thursday, she said.
Booth said none of the four residents who tested positive has symptoms.
At the state's veterans home in Fayetteville, at least seven residents and six staff members have tested positive.
Four of those residents died.
"Two of those had tested negative for COVID-19 before passing," Harper said in an email.
"To the best of our knowledge the coroner included COVID-19 among the causes of death for three of the four deaths."
In Little Rock, Gibbs Elementary School will shift to all-virtual instruction today in response to a manpower shortage caused by the virus.
In-classroom instruction will resume Oct. 5, according to a note from the school's principal.
Gibbs' pre-K program is closed today with in-class learning resuming Monday.
"Our biggest challenge is the number of staff at our school who have had to be quarantined," Tina Greenwood, the principal, said in a letter to faculty members and parents. "The ability to deliver in-person and virtual instruction has become problematic with so many staff members quarantined."
Greenwood said Gibbs has one staff member and one student who have tested positive.
The school joins Parkview High School, Dunbar Middle School and Southwest High School as schools within the Little Rock district that have had to close to on-site instruction for one or more days this schol year.
Parkview went to all-virtual instruction Thursday. Administrators were expected to decide over the weekend whether in-class learning will resume next week.
The district announced in its daily covid-19 report Thursday that it had learned of nine new cases, up from six new cases the day before.
In the 24-hour period ending at 3 p.m. Thursday, an additional 12 employees and 21 students at 21 schools were required to quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive.
Conway Public Schools, which has had 33 cumulative faculty and student cases, announced that beginning Oct. 2, all students and teachers will have virtual learning days every Friday.
Students will have the option to go to school on Fridays to complete virtual curriculum on campus or remain at home.
In an announcement, the district said that it is "making the change primarily to ease the burden on our faculty."
"We have listened and we trust the feedback received from our teachers: the amount of work required with our current model of instruction is not sustainable," the district said. "These are catch-up days for teachers and students: there will be no new content taught or major assignments given."
Lafayette County School District Superintendent Robert Edwards said the district is shifting its elementary school to virtual learning from today until Monday not just because of an increase in covid cases but also because the number of faculty members under quarantine is making it difficult to find substitute teachers.
Lafayette County Elementary in southwest Arkansas reported seven new cases as of Thursday.
The school has nine faculty members and 10 students who are quarantined. Edwards said the lack of teachers this week was so dire that some administrators had to step in to cover classes.
"What is killing us is not the actual number of cases but the contacts who are having to quarantine," Edwards said. "It is hurting our staff population. It is extremely difficult to bring in subs, even with an agency that sends substitutes."
With confirmed cases and more than 70 students quarantined, Farmington High School in Northwest Arkansas will also shift to virtual learning today.
Classes will resume in-person on Monday, according to a letter from Farmington School District Superintendent John Laffoon.
Arkansas Arts Academy, a charter school in Rogers, announced Thursday that its campus for grades seven-12 will pivot to all online learning for today only "in an abundance of caution" after recording its first coronavirus case, according to a Facebook post by the school.
The Paris School District also will shift to virtual today. Superintendent Royce Fawcett said the district plans to reopen for face-to-face classes Tuesday but will continue to assess the situation.
The district has three positive cases and 51 faculty members and students quarantined.
"We are being extremely cautious," Fawcett said.
On Monday, Buffalo Island Central High School outside of Jonesboro will shift to virtual learning for the week. Classes are scheduled to resume Oct. 5, according to school administrators.
As of Thursday, the school had eight positive cases and 51 faculty members and students quarantined.
Jacksonville Lighthouse Elementary, part of Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School, also will pivot to virtual from the end of this week until Oct. 8.
The Bentonville School District announced this week that all students attending Bentonville and West high schools could work from home for two weeks beginning Monday to try to limit community spread of the virus.
The number of positive cases in the schools remains low, but the district wanted to be proactive in controlling the spread of the virus, according to an email Wednesday sent to families from Bentonville Superintendent Debbie Jones.
So far this month, the state Department of Education's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education has recorded 61 learning modifications in September because of the pandemic. That's up from five in late August after the start of the school year.
According to the Health Department's biweekly reports on cases at educational institutions, the cumulative number of cases among public school district students and employees rose by 479, to 4,116, from Monday to Thursday.
The total on Thursday included at least 3,054 among students and 1,026 among employees. Those numbers don't add up to the overall total because of "unavailable data," according the reports.
Fifty-one districts had five or more active cases as of Thursday, down from 54 on Monday.
But the total number of active cases among students and employees in all districts rose by six, to 748.
At colleges and universities, the cumulative number of cases among students and employees rose by 445, to 3,777, from Monday to Thursday, according to the Health Department reports.
The number of cases that were active fell by 97, to 604.
At the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the cumulative number of cases among students and employees rose by 120, to 1,906.
But the number of case that were considered active fell by 145, to 179.
The university posted different numbers on its website on Wednesday that also showed a drop in active cases since the site's previous update on Monday.
The University of Central Arkansas in Conway was listed as having 64 active cases, a number that hadn't changed since Monday.
It was listed as having the second-highest number of active cases, after UA, on both Monday and Thursday.
Arkansas Tech University in Russellville was listed as having the next highest active case total, 46, followed by Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, which was listed as having 39.
On its website, however, Arkansas State reported having 79 active cases, down from 97 on Wednesday.
The cases on the website Thursday comprised 30 students living on campus, 37 living off campus, 10 employees and two contractors.
As of Wednesday, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock reported 24 active cases on campus.
The Health Department report, however, listed it as having just five active cases on Thursday.
Also as of Thursday, Henderson State University in Arkadelphia reported two positive cases, bringing the total number of positive student and faculty cases to 67 since the beginning of July, the university said on its website, which is updated daily with case information.
The Health Department report listed the university as having 12 active cases as of Thursday.
Information for this article was contributed by Dave Perozek of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.