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Arkansas again hits new high for COVID hospitalizations

Michael Hibblen
(Left) A sign at the entrance to the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center in Little Rock notes it is among places distributing the free at-home COVID-19 tests bought by the state. (Right) Four of the 1.5 million tests Arkansas acquired.

The number of people needing treatment in Arkansas hospitals for COVID-19 on Thursday reached an all-time high of 1,640 patients. It was the third consecutive day for hospitalizations in the state to set a new record.

The Department of Health reported an increase of 40 patients. This adds a further strain on hospitals which have been saying for weeks that they're struggling to manage the number of patients amid a staffing shortage and many employees being out sick with the virus or quarantining after a possible exposure. Since Thursday of last week, the number of hospitalizations has increased by 389.

“We’re continuing to monitor hospitalizations across the state,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Twitter. He added that he would discuss the sharp increase during his weekly press briefing scheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m.

The department also reported 11,160 new infections, with the number of active cases growing by 2,251 for a total of 97,629. There were eight additional deaths, with the state toll since the start of the pandemic at 9,470 people.

Exactly three weeks after Hutchinson announced the state would buy 1.5 million rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits, the final shipments of tests were sent by the Health Department Thursday to locations around the state, said spokesperson Danyelle McNeill. During the nearly two weeks the tests have been available for free at places like libraries and public health units, they have been snatched up quickly.

Many locations said they would quickly run out of the test kits until subsequent shipments arrived. McNeill said the department has no plans at this time to acquire any additional tests beyond the 1.5 million that have now been distributed. The federal government this week began allowing people to order at-home tests for free online that will be mailed to them.

Hutchinson has said the goal of the state buying the at-home tests was to relieve demand at hospitals and other facilities that have been conducting testing. There have been long lines with people often waiting hours to be tested.

Rhonda Boyd was among those who stopped by the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center in Little Rock on Thursday to pick up tests bought by the state.

“I’m glad they have them for us to test at home because it’s hard to get into the places to even get tested. So, I’m real thankful for the tests they’re giving out.”

At the nearby Pulaski County health unit, Tony Hubbard was leaving with three test kits which he said would be shared with his neighbors. Hubbard said he is very pleased the state has been providing the tests.

“I’m actually glad to get them. They’re really needed in the community,” Hubbard said. “I just pass them out to some people in my apartment complex that don’t have a vehicle. So I just take [the tests] to them.”

Shawn Nyman also picked up the at-home test kits, noting the advantage of only having to wait 15 minutes to see the results compared to several days when typically getting tested at a medical facility.

"My daughter has been around someone with COVID," Nyman said. "It's going to take five days for a test result to come in, so I figured I'd grab some."

Hutchinson has said the $10 million cost for the at-home tests was covered by existing funds at the Department of Health dedicated to the COVID-19 response.

Michael Hibblen is News Director of UA Little Rock Public Radio. A 33-year radio veteran, he oversees the KUAR News staff, plans coverage and edits stories while also anchoring and reporting for the station.