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UAMS closing COVID drive-thru testing site and vaccination clinic

Healthcare workers attend to people being tested at UAMS' drive thru triage location.
Michael Hibblen
Doctors and nurses testing people for COVID-19 at UAMS' drive-thru triage location on July 23, 2020. The drive-thru testing site is to be closed on Friday.

As Arkansas’ COVID-19 cases continue to decline, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is scaling back vaccinations and testing.

On Friday, UAMS will close a drive-thru testing site on the Little Rock campus at Shuffield Drive and Jack Stephens Drive at 4 p.m. It opened just over two years ago on March 13, 2020. Tests will still be offered starting Monday, March 28 by appointment only at the nearby Monroe Building at 401 S. Monroe Street.

Last Friday, it halted the operation of a vaccine clinic that had most recently been located in the Monroe Building. Vaccinations will still be available there, but only by appointment. Since the first vaccination clinic opened on Jan. 19, 2021 in the Freeway Medical Center, UAMS says it has administered more than 118,000 doses.

Despite fewer cases in the state, there is a risk of another surge as the BA.2 subvariant enters the country. The subvariant is said to be more contagious than omicron, though the risk of infection may be lower for some.

Dr. Shane Speights, the dean of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, said “For individuals that had omicron, there are antibodies protections that are covering them for BA.2.”

In an interview with the Arkansas PBS program "Arkansas Week," Speights said being vaccinated, including getting booster shots, protects better against the BA.2 subvariant than omicron variant.

Leslie Taylor, vice chancellor of communications and marketing at UAMS, said closing the drive-thru testing site and the vaccine clinic was a collaborative choice that had been discussed daily by UAMS.

“We’ve opened a public vaccine clinic more than once when other surges have hit. We have personnel that we need to deploy back to the clinics where they were before COVID and certainly if we need to reopen a public vaccination clinic, if we need to reopen our testing drive-thru center, we can do that, Taylor said in an interview with KUAR News. "We’ve done that rather quickly in the past with other surges.”

Taylor said the numbers had been declining in the drive-thru testing center, most likely due to the accessibility of at-home tests, and the frequency dropped from about 800 tests being administered a day to 60. At one point in the months after the pandemic began, the location was averaging 500 cars a day.

UAMS has multiple infectious disease specialists monitoring new variants as well.

“We also have sequencing centers where they have actually identified the first case of, for instance, the BA.2 variant in the state,” Taylor said, “So, our folks are keeping an eye on things. They are watching what’s happening in larger cities and they’re prepared to help us re-man these facilities if we need to but we feel very secure in their hands.”

Remington Miller was an intern at KUAR News as part of the George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship program. She later worked as a reporter and editor for the station.
Alexandria Brown is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News. She was previously a Douthit scholar who interned for KUAR News. Alexandria will graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2022 in hopes of being a multimedia reporter.