State works to make COVID testing more available

RIGHT: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson talks about new COVID-19 cases during his weekly media briefing.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday directed 50 more Arkansas National Guard troops to help with COVID-19 testing across the state.

The action came in response to people waiting in line for as much as an hour to be tested at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences in Little Rock, and some leaving the testing site because of the long wait.

“We’re working with the Arkansas Hospital Association to identify the greatest areas of need,” Hutchinson said during his weekly media briefing held Tuesday.

Hutchinson added that the state ordered 1.5 million home tests last week. He said there is a national shortage of the home tests, and that the state is waiting for those to be delivered.

The rapid at-home tests would be available for free to Arkansans, and would be available at public libraries, public health units, and other locations.

Hutchinson said the cost of the tests will be around $10 million and will be covered by existing funds available in the COVID response budget.

“If we can utilize our rapid tests in a more efficient manner across the state that will be a benefit in early detection, early action, and also relieving some of the burdens on our health care workers,” Hutchinson said last week.

Talking to the White House on Tuesday, Hutchinson said the federal government had ordered 500 million rapid at-home tests, and that it is expected that they will be available at the end of the month.

“We want to be able to beat that,” Hutchinson said. “We hope we can. We placed that order and we’re working hard to get that.”

Tuesday marked a record number of new COVID-19 cases reported in one day since the pandemic began, with 6,562. The number of active cases in the state are at a record high as well.

“This tells us that we’re entering a period of probably the greatest risk, and the greatest challenge that we’ve faced during the pandemic,” Hutchinson said. “At the beginning, there was so much that was unknown that made it a real challenge. Today we have greater tools to work with. We have [the] Omicron [variant] here that is less severe, but at the same time the sheer volume of numbers as it moves forward gives us challenges that we haven’t faced before. So we have a lot of work to do during this coming month, and we hope that this goes down quickly.”

Craighead County ranked third among Arkansas counties with the highest number of new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday with 439. Pulaski County had the largest number of new cases among counties with 1,332, followed by Washington County with 472.

As of Tuesday there were 775 people hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19, a total of 53 more patients than the day before, with 118 of those on ventilators. A total of 29,807 people have been hospitalized in Arkansas because of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Hutchinson said the state has plans to increase hospital capacity if necessary. “We’ve invested over $60 million over the last year in expanding space in hospitals for ICU, medical surge beds,” he said.

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