- Associated Press - Thursday, December 31, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas health secretary Dr. Jose Romero on Thursday extended the 11 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol for 30 days as the number of people hospitalized in the state due to coronavirus reached another record high.

The order said Romero consulted with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who issued the initial 11 p.m. closing order in November, before extending the directive to Feb. 3.

“Based on available scientific evidence … it is necessary and appropriate to take further action to ensure that COVID-19 remains controlled and that residents and visitors in Arkansas remain safe,” the order states.

The previous order was to expire Sunday.

Arkansas health officials on Thursday confirmed a new record-high 1,195 people hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That’s an increase of 21 people from the previous record high set on Wednesday. Of those hospitalized, nearly 400 are in intensive-care units.

The state health department on Wednesday reported there have been 222,430 total coronavirus cases and 3,637 deaths since the pandemic began.

Seven day rolling averages of new cases and deaths have declined in Arkansas since Dec. 16, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The rolling average of daily cases declined from 2,121 per day to 2,069 on Wednesday and the average number of deaths dropped from 41 to 37 per day during the same time period.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate of coronavirus tests in the state increased from 17.26% to 21.24%.

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