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Arkansas sets new record for COVID hospitalizations

Covid-19 test kits are in short supply in Little Rock.
David Monteith
At least three libraries in Little Rock said Tuesday they were out of the free, at-home COVID-19 test kits being distributed by the state.

Arkansas hospitals reached an all-time high on Tuesday for patients being treated for COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health. 67 additional hospitalizations since Monday brought the total to 1,487 statewide. The previous record was 1,459 patients set on Aug. 16.

"Today’s report shows we are at the highest level of hospitalizations during the Pandemic," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Twitter. "We have already coordinated to expand capacity. We are on target to distribute the 1.5 million at-home tests we ordered."

Hospital officials hope the at-home test kits will ease the strain on facilities that are already short-staffed and in recent weeks have seen long lines of people waiting to be tested. Last week, the state began distributing the tests at libraries, community health units and partner organizations.

Dr. Jerrilyn Jones, the department's medical director for emergency preparedness, is optimistic that enabling people to test themselves will reduce the number of emergency room visits.

“Hopefully the ability to be able to get that information at home will keep people out of the emergency departments and other places in close proximity to others. We do have to remember that coming through the [emergency rooms] we also have a bunch of folks that potentially are immunocompromised,” Jones said.

Many locations distributing the free tests say they quickly ran out of initial shipments. Hutchinson said Friday the state had received more than 1 million tests and the rest are expected soon, though no timeline has been given. The federal government has also launched its website allowing a limited number of free kits to be ordered online.

The Department of Health's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, says intensive care units and emergency rooms are making rapid adjustments in response to the expanding number of patients.

“Hospital are struggling. They don’t have enough staff to care for everyone that needs care, so they’re bringing in volunteers and repurposing administrative staff to do things like transport patients," Dillaha said in an interview. "It’s all hands on deck for our hospitals right now.”

The department also reported 3,213 new cases of people testing positive for the virus on Tuesday. According to state data, the number of active cases declined by 4,373, though the real number of active cases is likely higher as more people are using the at-home tests and may not be reporting new infections.

The state also reported 15 additional deaths for a total of 9,452 since the start of the pandemic.

David Monteith worked as a reporter for KUAR News between 2015 and July 2022.