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story.lead_photo.caption This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19. - Photo by NIAID-RML via AP

Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose Friday by 897, the third daily increase of more than 800 cases in a row.

The death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by 20, to 1,266.

The cases added Friday included 796 that were confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests.

The other 101 were "probable" cases, which included those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson noted the state as of Friday had surpassed his testing goals for the month after the number of PCR tests exceeded 180,000.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » nwaonline.com/coronavirus]

"We will continue working to increase testing capacity across the state to help us identify COVID-19 cases and slow the spread of this virus," Hutchinson said in a statement.

"While our cases are down from yesterday, we cannot let our guard down. Let's all do the right thing this weekend for the benefit of our family and friends."

The number of people hospitalized with covid-19 rose by 27, to 484.

Those patients included 95 who were on ventilators, down from 97 a day earlier.

The number of patients who have ever been hospitalized with covid-19 in the state rose by 42, to 5,202.

The number of who have ever been on ventilators rose by seven, to 657.

"I think we're still in the same pattern that we've been in, which is community spread," state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said.

"With the higher number of cases, we've have had some hospitalizations go up, as well as a consistent higher number of deaths."

Although the number of people hospitalized with the virus remained below the peak of more than 500 in early August, Dillaha said the increase in hospitalizations is worrisome.

"I'm concerned about our hospital capacity," she said.

"So far we're in good shape, but we're moving into the fall where we have more cases of influenza and pneumonia, so if it remains higher like this and the other respiratory diseases also circulate, that could contribute to a greater burden on our hospital system.

"I think we're OK for now in terms of our capacity. I'm just thinking in terms of the fall and winter, and I don't want to keep moving in this direction."

The increase in deaths included 19 that were among confirmed cases, raising the count of deaths among such cases to 1,116.

The state's count of deaths among probable cases increased by one, to 150.

The state's cumulative count of cases since the start of the pandemic in March rose to 79,946.

That comprised 77,472 confirmed cases and 2,474 probable ones.

[Interactive Arkansas map not showing up above? Click here to see it: nwaonline.com/arvirus]

The number of confirmed or probable cases that were considered active rose by 188, to 7,249, as 689 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.

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 those they may have infected to quarantine.

CHURCH CLUSTERS

Friday's increase in cases was less than the 1,086 that were added Thursday and 982 Wednesday.

Over a rolling seven-day period, however, the average number of confirmed and probable cases added to the state's count each day rose for the third straight day, to 838, up from 803 as of Tuesday.

The average daily increase over seven days as of Friday translated to a rate of 28 cases a day per 100,000 residents.

According to data from the Covid Tracking Project, that continued to be the sixth-highest rate among the states and Washington, D.C., behind North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah and Oklahoma.

Arkansas continued to have the ninth-highest number of cases per capita. It had the 22nd-highest number of virus deaths per capita, up from the 24th highest as of Wednesday.

Although the uptick in the pace of the virus's spread in the state has coincided with the start of the school year, Dillaha said the transmission seems to be occurring during off-campus extracurricular activities and community events rather than in the school buildings.

"As schools began, then there were a number of social activities that increased because of after-school activities, sports, not just the athletes but people attending the games and that social environment where there's parties afterwards," Dillaha said. "And we have seen that in K-12, mostly high school with the athletes, but we've also seen it in colleges."

The virus also has spread during church services, she said.

"Apparently, there is a revival season that many churches have, and there were a number of revivals that had cases associated with them," she said.

Also, some churches that previously held services online began holding in-person services again, without taking precautions such as requiring people to wear masks, she said.

Arkansans are also increasingly likely to be tested for the virus.

With the addition of 9,908 PCR tests that were conducted Thursday, the state exceeded Hutchinson's goal of 180,000 for the month as the number of tests that had been conducted in September reached 190,354.

The state last week exceeded his goal of having 10,000 antigen tests conducted this month.

By Thursday, the number had risen to 18,616.

By contrast, in August the state appeared to fall short of Hutchinson's goal of having 190,000 PCR tests and 10,000 antigen tests conducted, according to reports that laboratories had submitted to the department as of earlier this month.







SUPERINTENDENT ON VENTILATOR

The Arkansas patients on ventilators as of Friday included Atkins School District Superintendent Jody Jenkins, according to updates from family members posted on the district's Facebook page.

The district's School Board president, Mark Coffman, confirmed that Jenkins has the virus and said the Facebook updates are reliable.

"Obviously, we are very concerned for him," Coffman said. "We are very concerned about his health, and we are hopeful for the best."

On Sept. 13, Jenkins posted on the district's Facebook page that he had tested positive.

"I can honestly say, I've had worse cases of the flu, but I will stay quarantined," Jenkins wrote. "I appreciate your prayers, and I can assure you the schools will continue to be vigilant about your children's safety."

Jenkins wrote that he showed symptoms on Sept. 9 and tested positive after receiving a rapid test at UAMS Medical Center.

As of Friday afternoon, Jenkins had regained blood flow to his right leg and foot after doctors were concerned it could not be saved because of blood clots. He also has a blood clot in his aorta, according to the Facebook posts.

"Doctors explained that the covid-19 virus affects people in different ways, and in some rare cases, for reasons they still don't understand, the virus causes the blood to begin thickening and clotting," the post said, adding that Jenkins' case is "also rare not just in the abnormal number of clots, but also that the location of the clots are in the arteries rather than veins."

Jenkins' ventilator has also been set at some of the highest levels, the posts added. "Doctors have said they 'have never seen a case this bad with this many complications,'" the Facebook posts said.

Coffman, the School Board president, said Darrell Webb, Atkins' assistant high school principal, is serving as acting superintendent.

"So far, knock on wood, with the exception of a couple of staff members, we have not had a whole lot of cases right now," Coffman said. "It is a matter of time like it is for a lot of other districts."

Mike Hernandez, executive director-elect of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, an advocacy group for superintendents, said he had not heard of any other covid cases among school leaders.

"We have not heard of any others recently except for a few who are having to quarantine," he said.

In June, the superintendent and assistant superintendent of the Nashville School District were hospitalized after testing positive.

Nashville Superintendent Doug Graham, who was hospitalized for five days, said the assistant superintendent has not returned to work.

"He still has a long way to go to be back to normal," Graham said. "He is doing really well for someone who was in his shape and in his condition."

INSTRUCTIONAL SHIFTS

Meanwhile, the Little Rock School District announced that two high schools that shifted to virtual instruction this week in response to virus cases will continue with all-online classes next week.

In-class instruction will resume at Southwest and Parkview high schools on Oct. 5, the district said.

It said it would use this time to "further investigate positive covid-19 and close contact cases" at the high schools.

Athletic practice and extracurricular activities also are canceled, the district said in its daily covid briefing.

"The number of positive cases and high number of students and staff required to be quarantined at those campuses have led to this change in educational delivery," Friday's briefing said.

The principal of another Little Rock school, Gibbs Elementary, said earlier that it would continue with online-only classes until Oct. 5. after it shifted to virtual instruction on Friday.

In its daily update on the virus, the district reported that two students each at Central High, Parkview High and Terry Elementary schools and one student at Fulbright Elementary had tested positive in the 24-hour period ending at 3 p.m. Friday.

An additional 58 students and employees were required to quarantine. That included 15 students and two employees at Terry Elementary; 11 students and seven employees at Parkview; 11 students and one employee at Central; and six students and one employee at Fulbright.

One student each at Mann Middle and Meadowcliff Elementary schools and an employee at Mabelvale Middle School also were among those required to quarantine.

OTHER SCHOOL CASES

Virus cases also prompted shifts to virtual instruction next week for Arkadelphia High School and a junior high school in Jonesboro, with in-person classes at both schools scheduled to resume Oct. 5.

"The district has made this decision in collaboration with [the Health Department] and [the Department of Education's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education] and has followed all specific guidance in terms of case reporting and quarantining," Arkadelphia Superintendent Karla Neathery said in a letter posted to the district's Facebook page on Friday announcing the high school shift.

At Douglas MacArthur Junior High in Jonesboro, nine students tested positive over the past week, resulting in the quarantine of 152 students, Jonesboro School District Assistant Superintendent William Cheatham said.

"There is no evidence that the positive cases are related," he said.

Southwood Elementary in the Pine Bluff district also will return to face-to-face instruction Oct. 5 after going all-online on Friday.

Superintendent Barbara Warren said the move came after five faculty members and one student tested positive.

Including those who tested positive, 20 faculty members are under isolation or quarantine, she said.

"Shifting from in-class to virtual is not a matter of feeling like we have an outbreak," Warren said. "It is the inability to operate and to maintain functions."

In Bauxite, a shift to virtual instruction for fifth graders at Pine Haven Elementary School on Friday will continue through Oct. 6.

Leann Pinkerton, academic director of the Bauxite School District, said a faculty member tested positive earlier this week, resulting in the quarantine of six fifth-grade teachers who were all in the same room making an online video.

"If you have a large number of staff out, you cannot get subs," she said.

Spring Hill Elementary School, part of the Spring Hill district in Hope, is shifting its fifth and sixth graders to online learning until Oct. 7 after a fifth-grade teacher tested positive, resulting in the quarantine of 88 students and four other faculty members, district Superintendent Tom Wilson said.

On Friday, a fourth-grade teacher at Spring Hill tested positive, Wilson said. The district is also shifting students and teachers in that grade to virtual-only learning until Oct. 9.

CASES BY COUNTY

The Health Department's count of cases increased Friday by 78 in both Washington and Pulaski counties; 62 in Craighead County; 48 in Sebastian County; 45 in Crawford County; 42 in Benton County; and 41 in Faulkner County.

Among prison and jail inmates, the state's count of cases rose by 36. 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.

On Friday evening, the Department of Corrections announced that a prisoner from the Pine Unit who was being treated at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff had become the state's 41st inmate to die of the virus.

The inmate was in his early 70s and serving a 34-year sentence for arson, the department said.

The Health Department's count of virus deaths rose Friday by three in Jefferson County and two each in Washington, Independence, Stone, Union and Cross counties.

The death toll rose by one each in Pulaski, Craighead, Garland, Greene, Arkansas, Madison and Clay counties.

Dillaha said seven of the deaths happened in the last week in August and the rest occurred this month.

Among nursing-home residents, the department's count of virus deaths rose by 13, to 408.

The death toll rose by one, to 195, among Arkansans age 55-64, and by 19, to 928, among those 65 and older.

COLLEGE CASES

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville reported on its website Friday that, as of a day earlier, it had been notified of 1,620 cases among people who have been on campus at some point since Aug. 1, up from 1,591 as of Tuesday.

The number of cases that were active, on the decline since it surpassed 900 earlier this month, fell from 115 as of Tuesday to 85 as of Thursday.

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro reported 69 active cases on Friday, down from 79 the day before and 97 on Wednesday.

The cases on Friday comprised 26 students living on campus, 32 living off, nine employees and two contractors.

Since June 1, ASU has had 512 cumulative cases, according to its website.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock reported 22 active cases as of Friday morning among students or employees who had been on campus within 14 days of their diagnoses.

The University of Arkansas, Fort Smith reported 10 new cases during the week that ended Friday, comprising nine students and one employee.

That brought the cumulative number of cases among students and employees since Aug. 15 to 52, the university reported.

Twenty-one of those cases -- 20 students and one employee -- were active as of Friday.

Coronavirus daily updates and cumulative covid-19 cases in Arkansas

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