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Arkansas to begin distributing free COVID tests shortly, governor says

COVID-19 coronavirus
Michael Hibblen
An over-the-counter BinaxNow at-home test kit which has been hard to find since the latest surge of COVID-19 cases.

Arkansas has received its first shipment of COVID-19 rapid at-home test kits, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday. Two weeks ago, he directed the Department of Health to acquire 1.5 million tests to be provided to residents for free.

The initial shipment included 211,000 tests which are to be sent to locations like libraries and public health units.

"Those tests are in the process of being distributed around the state," Hutchinson said on Twitter.

He has previously said the $10 million cost for the tests will be covered by existing state funding allocated for the pandemic. They are intended to relieve the burden on testing facilities like hospitals which have been experiencing long lines.

The arrival of the tests, which have been sold out at most retail outlets, comes as the state continues seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases. The department on Monday reported 4,747 new cases of people testing positive for the virus. That compares to 1,750 new infections on the same day a week ago.

Active cases on Monday grew by 1,543 since Sunday, with 61,122 people being impacted, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. 10 additional deaths were also reported.

Hospitalizations increased by 58 for a total of 1,068 people being treated statewide. A week ago, 722 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

To expand bed space for patients suffering from the virus, Hutchinson said he has requested $50 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to be distributed to hospitals. The proposed plan would add 98 intensive care unit beds and 167 standard medical beds at 11 hospitals around the state.

A state steering committee approved the request on Monday, Hutchinson said, which will now need approval from the Arkansas Legislature.

Michael Hibblen is News Director of UA Little Rock Public Radio. A 34-year radio veteran, he oversees the KUAR News staff, plans coverage and edits stories while also reporting and anchoring newscasts.