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Fort Smith/Fayetteville News | 5newsonline KFSM 5NEWS | Get the local news and weather where you live from 5NEWS. Covering Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Bentonville, and all of Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley.

COVID-19 hospitalizations take a huge dip in Arkansas Tuesday

Doctors in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley say there are a few reasons why the number of hospitalizations has sharply declined - vaccines, masks among them.

On Tuesday (Feb. 23), Arkansas reported a major decrease in hospitalizations across the state due to the COVID-19 virus. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson says the state continues to see fewer deaths and hospitalizations each day. 

Doctors in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley say there are a few reasons why the number of hospitalizations has sharply declined - vaccinations being the biggest factor, along with winter turning to spring and Arkansans continuing to wear face masks. 

“As I look outside today, it’s sunny, and we seem to be heading in the right direction," Dr. Lee Johnson, an emergency room physician at Baptist Health, said. "So some of the decreases are related to getting over the winter hump, and some of it I think too is tied to the vaccinations. We’re a month and a half into people getting vaccinated, and we’re expanding today down to people who are 65, which is great news.”

RELATED: Arkansas expands Phase 1-B for COVID-19 vaccine to include 65+ age group

RELATED: Where to get COVID-19 vaccine in Northwest Arkansas & River Valley

COVID-19 hospitalizations went down by 43 to 545 on Tuesday after reaching a record high of 1,371 people last month. 

“I think all of us in the medical field are happy to see the numbers going down and hopeful we will continue to see that trend," Johnson told 5NEWS. 

He says their hospital is certainly seeing a marked decrease in hospitalizations compared to where they were at the end of December. 

“There’s just more and more immunity out in our community helping to stop the spread," Johnson said. 

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha with the Arkansas Department of Health says vaccines play a significant role in reducing active cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. Dillaha says since older aged groups have been prioritized for vaccination, that should be a sign Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are working. 

“We know that our residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes those residents are at highest risk for severe illness and death and are seeing a decrease in the hospitalization and also a decrease in the deaths in that group," Dillaha said. "So I think that vaccines are working for them. I’m looking forward to having more of the General population vaccinated.” 

According to the Northwest Arkansas Healthcare Community, hospitals averaged 128 patients in COVID-19 units this time last month. This week, hospitals in Northwest Arkansas are averaging 47 patients.