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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Tuesday Aug. 24, 2021 during his weekly press briefing at the state Capitol in Little Rock. More photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)\

LITTLE ROCK — The number of Arkansas COVID-19 patients on ventilators reached another high Wednesday as a hospital urged the postponement of a motorcycle rally expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to the state's northwest next month.

The Department of Health said 354 coronavirus patients were on ventilators, surpassing the previous high set Monday. There are 1,368 COVID-19 patients in Arkansas hospitals, with 534 in ICUs.

Coronavirus patients make up nearly half of the state's ICU beds. There are four hospitals in the state with ICU beds for coronavirus patients, according to the state's system for coordinating COVID-19 patients. The state on Tuesday ran out of ICU beds for virus patients for the first time since the pandemic began.

Overall, the state reported 27 ICU beds available, though it was not clear how many were equipped for ICU patients.

Arkansas on Wednesday reported 2,781 new virus cases and 25 new COVID-19 deaths. The state reported more than 12,000 new doses of the coronavirus vaccine were given.

Arkansas ranks fifth in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Washington Regional Medical Center urged that the Bikes, Blues and BBQ motorcycle rally scheduled for next month in Fayetteville be postponed because of the surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The hospital said holding an event expected to draw more than 300,000 people during this surge "is to invite disaster."

The event, which bills itself as the largest charitable motorcycle rally in the U.S., is slated to be held Sept. 22-25. A message left with rally organizers was not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

"Our staff are pushed to the limit NOW," Dr. David Ratcliff, Washington Regional's Chief Medical Officer, wrote in a letter to Fayetteville's mayor. "Adding the additional patients that will inevitably come with BB&B will push us beyond that limit."

The University of Arkansas, where the main stage for the rally is located, said it's looking at potential options for the event because of the concerns raised.

"We are concerned about ensuring that local medical resources can be focused on the ongoing health and safety needs, and regularly planned activities of our local community," UA spokesman Mark Rushing said in a statement.

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