Based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, the Arkansas Department of Health on Tuesday reported 139 “probable” COVID-19 related deaths. The update came on the same day official death toll increased by 17 to 1,003. There were 676 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with the total now at 70,125.
Dr. Michael Cima, the department's chief epidemiologist and associate director for science, said a death is labeled as “probable” with an associated positive antigen case, or if the “underlying” cause of death is COVID-19.
Asked about the rise in death numbers in recent weeks, Gov. Asa Hutchinson disagreed that the numbers have accelerated.
“I don’t have the sense that they are accelerating. And that’s been a little bit of the frustrating part, that we’re adding deaths that should have been accounted for in the month of July or June or two weeks ago. So that it throwing the daily number off. I’m frustrated by the system that has been changed by the CDC as to how you count these, but we’re trying to be very transparent in it,” Hutchinson said.
Death numbers between Sept. 1 and Sept. 15 have risen 23.2%. The death count rose 71.4% during August.
Hutchinson also said Tuesday the ADH has received 12,000 testing kits for the 200 Veritor antigen machines it received weeks ago. He said the kits will give the state a two-month supply. He announced Sept. 8 the state will spend $4 million to buy 120,000 rapid antigen testing kits through the previously announced consortium with the Rockefeller Foundation and other states.
The machines and testing kits will be placed in state public health labs and in 10 university and college testing sites and “selected” community testing sites. The $4 million is from federal funds through the CARES Act package Congress approved earlier this year.
Little Rock-based Baptist Health Urgent Care also announced Tuesday it has expanded COVID-19 testing to include rapid antigen testing for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms that began less than five days ago. Rapid testing is available at Baptist Health Urgent Care centers in Benton, Bryant, Cabot, Fort Smith, Jacksonville, Little Rock (two centers) and North Little Rock. Results of the rapid antigen test will be received during the visit. Baptist Health Urgent Care uses the Sofia 2 rapid antigen test which can detect specific select proteins found in the virus. This means a positive result is highly accurate, according to Baptist Health.