New covid-19 cases in Arkansas rose by 673 on Sunday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, a decrease when compared with the 851 new cases reported the day before.
The department revised its death toll, originally reported on Saturday as 600, down one to 599, citing a false positive. The department has worked to clean up its data by removing residents of other states who tested positive in Arkansas, an official said over the weekend.
No new deaths were reported on Sunday. Even so, August has proved to be a deadly month in Arkansas during the pandemic.
The state's death toll was 458 as of Aug. 1, with the Department of Health reporting 141 additional deaths thus far this month, more than the total number of deaths in March, April and May combined. The total number of deaths related to covid-19 in Arkansas was 133 as of June 1.
Of the new covid-19 cases reported on Sunday, 198 were in correctional facilities, according to the Department of Health.
In an interview on Sunday, state epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said she was not immediately aware of whether the nearly 200 cases in correctional facilities were related to "any particular outbreak."
The new cumulative covid-19 case total was 52,665 as of Sunday after data revisions were made beginning on Saturday.
With the start of the 2020-21 school year one week away, the number of active cases in Arkansas was essentially unchanged, with the Department of Health reporting an increase of seven, from 6,487 to 6,494.
"We are starting to see new cases level out but we must remain vigilant throughout the coming weeks to ensure we can build on the progress we've made," Gov. Asa Hutchinson wrote on Twitter on Sunday afternoon.
Later on Sunday, the governor's office announced that Hutchinson will meet today with Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force, at the Governor's Mansion for a roundtable discussion with local leaders, followed by Birx answering questions from the media at 1 p.m.
Results from 6,216 tests were received Saturday, an increase compared with the day before.
The number of hospitalizations and patients on ventilators in Arkansas -- metrics that are crucial for understanding the strain of the outbreak on a state's resources -- both rose Sunday.
The number of patients in the hospital because of covid-19 increased by 14 to 478 and the number of individuals on ventilators rose by 12 to 120.
Based on the state's data, which showed an increase of only eight between Saturday and Sunday in the total number of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic, Dillaha suggested that some of the newly hospitalized patients "may be repeat hospitalizations."
"And we know that that can occur with covid-19," she said. "People will do well and have complications and need to go back to the hospital. That's one of the concerns we have about this disease."
The Department of Health has contracted with a vendor to expunge from its running total of infections in out-of-state residents who were tested in Arkansas, while simultaneously assigning county information to individuals for whom that information was missing, Dr. Austin Porter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Saturday.
Porter, the department's deputy chief science officer, said the effort by the contractor would be reflected in Saturday's numbers, which showed the cumulative case total dropping from nearly 52,400 to just under 52,000.
Significant changes occurred to the Department of Health's testing numbers pertaining to Northwest Arkansas. The number of negative tests attributed to Benton County decreased from more than 57,000 as of Friday to just over 49,000 on Sunday. Likewise, the reported number of negative tests surged for Washington County from 25,414 to 45,763 over the weekend.
When asked if residents can be confident in the data supplied by the Department of Health in light of the fast-moving pandemic and the recent revisions to the information, Dillaha said officials "work really hard to make sure that the data that we post is as accurate as we can possibly make it, and some of them get few, if any, days off."
Nevertheless, she acknowledged, "There are problems with the data that we've encountered from time to time." Dillaha specifically referred to covid-19 cases which lacked county information.
With the help of the third-party contractor, officials were finally able to work through the cases, she said. "As a result, we learned that a lot of those cases were actually not Arkansas cases," Dillaha said.
While the data is not perfect, she said, every day officials try show information which, to the best of their knowledge, is "as good as we can get it."
As college students return to Arkansas for the fall semester, a Department of Health spokesman on Sunday said the state plans to attribute out-of-state college students who test positive for covid-19 within the first two weeks of returning to campus to their home state's case count. After two weeks, students who test positive will be included in Arkansas' running total.
"[T]he date is tied to when they arrived in Arkansas, so it could vary from one student to another," spokesman Gavin Lesnick wrote in an email.
State Rep. Denise Garner, D-Fayetteville, had raised the issue of counting college students who test positive in a tweet on Sunday.
In Pulaski County, active cases increased from 818 to 831 as of Sunday. Active cases in Benton County rose by just two, from 202 to 204. In Washington County, active cases decreased by 17, from 249 to 232.
Pulaski County led the state in terms of new cases, with 85 new cases reported on Sunday, followed by Lee County with 76 and Lincoln County with 56.
Information for this article was contributed by Jaime Adame of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.