Pharmacists and other providers continued reporting strong demand for Arkansas' limited supply of coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday as the state's count of cases grew by 2,520.
The state death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 55, to 4,441.
Meanwhile, after rising slightly a day earlier, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell by 86, to 1,179 -- its lowest level so far this year.
The number of hospitalized patients has mostly fallen since it peaked at 1,371 on Jan. 11.
CHI St. Vincent said Wednesday that it had temporarily closed community vaccine clinics at its hospitals in Little Rock and Hot Springs after administering 2,000 shots to Arkansans age 70 and older and to school and child care center employees on Monday and Tuesday, exhausting its supply of initial doses.
"Those still interested in receiving the vaccine are encouraged to register online," the health system said in a Facebook post.
"Once additional doses of the vaccine are received, CHI St. Vincent will contact them to schedule their vaccination."
Those eligible can register for the shots at chistvincent.com/getmyshot. People who have already registered won't lose their spots, the health system said.
Harps Food Stores, which is offering the vaccine at 15 pharmacies in the state, announced Wednesday that its appointments had been booked through February.
"We ask for your patience as there are over 440,000 people eligible in the current vaccine phase in the state of Arkansas and only 30,000 doses of the vaccine are coming into the state each week," Robert Acord, the grocery chain's director of pharmacy, said in a news release.
Arkansans age 70 and older and school and child care center employees -- all population groups that fall under Phase 1-B of the vaccination plan -- officially became eligible for the shots on Monday, although some providers started giving them to those groups last week.
The shots had already been available to health care workers, first responders and workers and residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities under Phase 1-A of the plan.
Front-line "essential workers," such as those working in factories and grocery stores, also fall under Phase 1-B but won't be eligible for shots until later.
MORE SHOTS GIVEN
As of Wednesday morning, the Health Department reported that the state had received 312,225 doses of vaccine, of which 164,699 had been administered.
The number administered represented an increase of 17,090 doses compared with the total a day earlier.
In addition, Walgreens and CVS reported administering 6,816 doses to residents and workers at long-term care facilities in the state as part of a federal program, up from 6,626 doses as of a day earlier.
The Health Department initially reported that the two companies had been allocated a total of 80,700 doses for long-term care facilities in Arkansas.
But department spokesman Gavin Lesnick said Wednesday that number was incorrect.
The actual number, he said, is 49,400 -- a number that hasn't changed since it increased from 24,700 on Jan. 14.
Col. Robert Ator, who is coordinating Arkansas' vaccine effort, said Tuesday that the two chains won't end up needing all of the vaccines they have been allocated for the long-term care facilities and that the state is working to make about 30,000 of the doses available to the broader population of Arkansans who are now eligible for the shots.
ARKANSAS RANKED NO. 15
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 144,792 Arkansans -- about 4.8% of the state's population -- had received at least one dose of the two vaccines' two-dose regimens as of Wednesday.
That was the 15th-highest percentage in the country among states and the District of Columbia.
Alaska had the highest percentage -- 7.8% -- followed by West Virginia (7.4%) and North Dakota (6.3%).
Arkansas also ranked 11th in the percentage of its population that had received both doses.
The CDC reported that 26,541 Arkansans, or 0.9% of the state population, fell into that category.
Alaska also ranked first in that regard, with 1.5% of its population having received both doses.
Pharmacies and other providers have three days to report the shots they administer.
State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said the reporting in Arkansas has recently improved as more pharmacists have begun providing the information by uploading spreadsheets into an online tracking system, rather than entering information on patients individually.
SUPPLIES TO INCREASE
Although newly sworn-in President Joe Biden has pledged to speed up vaccine shipments to states, Dillaha said she hadn't yet heard as of Wednesday of any changes in how much Arkansas will be getting.
Next week, the state expects to receive enough doses to provide the initial shots to about 18,600 people using the Moderna vaccine and 18,525 with the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
That's the same amount the state received this week.
The state will also receive doses to provide the booster shots for people who received their initial shots earlier.
But Dillaha said the Biden administration did announce that it will be increasing the amount of equipment, such as syringes and protective gear, that a federal contractor ships to providers for the administration of the Pfizer vaccine.
The contractor has been supplying enough of the equipment for providers to administer five doses per vial of the vaccine, but "most places are able to get six or seven doses per vial, so they were running low on needles and syringes," Dillaha said.
ACTIVE CASES FALL
The increase in cases on Wednesday was slightly higher than the 2,467 cases that were added to the state's tallies a week earlier, on Jan. 13.
In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson noted a drop in the number of cases in the state that were considered active.
That number fell by 549, to 20,391, as 3,014 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.
"This is the fourth consecutive day of a decline, and we have over 4,700 fewer active cases than this time last week," Hutchinson said. "It's up to each of us to ensure we stay on this trend and defeat this virus."
Although it increased slightly on Wednesday, to 2,013, the average number of cases added to the state's tallies over a rolling seven-day period remained well below its peak of 3,086 as of Jan. 10.
"I see a ray of sunshine here because the new cases, I guess they're a little higher than a week ago but they're well under 3,000, which I'm very happy to see," Dillaha said.
She also pointed to the decline in active cases as "a good thing because those are the number of people who are likely infectious right now."
While not all infections are diagnosed, "my hope is that's an indicator for cases overall in the state," Dillaha said.
The "nice drop in hospitalizations" was also welcome news, she said.
"They're well under 1,200 and I'm very happy about that," Dillaha said.
The number of covid-19 patients who were on ventilators rose Wednesday by three, to 212, while the number who were in intensive care units fell by eight, to 388.
Both measures remained well below the highs they reached on Jan. 11: 268 for the number on ventilators and 458 for the number in intensive care units.
One of the 55 deaths reported Wednesday happened in early December, and the rest occurred within the past month, Dillaha said.
Since it often takes weeks for someone infected to become sick enough to be hospitalized and die, and then additional time for the death to be reported, Dillaha said the large number of deaths reported Wednesday likely reflects the high number of cases in the state in late December and earlier this month, including surges linked to gatherings over Christmas and New Year's Eve.
More recently, the state's growth in cases has leveled off.
"I think it has to do with the fact that cases have been high, and people likely have made changes in their activities," Dillaha said.
"I'm hearing anecdotal reports from people who have decreased their nonessential trips out in public. They have stayed home more.
"I don't really know how widespread that is, but I suspect that people have been more conservative lately with their activities, and if that is the case, then I'd encourage them to keep it up because we'd like to see this trend even go down even further."
Although the state this week entered its sixth week of vaccinations against the virus, Dillaha said too few people at this point have been immunized to affect the state's case numbers.
But she said the promise of the vaccine could be encouraging some people to continue taking precautions against catching the virus because "there's more hope that we can get to the other side."
CASES BY COUNTY
The cases added to the state's tallies Wednesday included 1,490 that were confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests.
The other 1,030 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests.
The state's cumulative count of cases rose to 276,114.
That comprised 222,287 confirmed cases and 53,827 probable ones.
Pulaski County had the largest number of new cases, 296, followed by Washington County, which had 230; Benton County, which had 172; Sebastian County, which had 133; and Faulkner County, which had 115.
Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department's count of cases rose by four.
Department of Corrections spokesman Cindy Murphy said the state didn't have any new cases reported Wednesday among inmates at state prisons.
The state's death toll rose by 36, to 3,657, among confirmed cases and by 19, to 784, among probable cases.
Among nursing home and assisted living facility residents, the state's count of virus deaths grew by 18, to 1,779.
The number of people who have ever been hospitalized with the virus in the state rose by 131, to 12,982.
The number who have ever been on a ventilator grew by six, to 1,374.