Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Arkansas are on the rise as 16 more Arkansans have died from the disease.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an increase of 410 new cases brought the state’s total to 53,487, while the additional COVID-19 deaths brought the death toll to 619.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the campus of Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville Tuesday, Hutchinson said he’s confident the state is completing enough coronavirus tests despite delays due to a nationwide shortage of testing supplies.
"We're doing sufficient testing to give us a good idea as to the level of the spread of the virus. It's clear that we’re either flat or going down, and that could depend upon the level of testing that you're doing," Hutchinson said. "When you're doing over 4,000 tests a day, that is more than we ever imagined three months ago."
Arkansas received 4,675 results from coronavirus tests in the past 24 hours, while the state’s average rate of positive test results remains slightly below 10%.
The number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rose by six Tuesday to 492 with 122 patients on a ventilator. Sebastian County had the highest increase in new cases with 44 residents testing positive, with 40 new cases added in Pulaski County and 29 in Washington County.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, medical director for immunizations at the Arkansas Department of Health, elaborated on the differences between traditional polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, coronavirus tests and point-of-care antigen tests which yield faster results.
"These antigen tests are for people who have symptoms. They are not for people who've been exposed and you want to see if they have the infection and they haven't developed symptoms yet. You need a PCR test for that. But for people who have symptoms, this antigen test can give you a result very quickly," Dillaha said.
Dillaha said the Health Department plans to give priority to students and school employees for receiving antigen tests at its Local Health Units across the state.
Hutchinson said the Arkansas Legislative Council is recommending $100 million to strengthen access to broadband internet in anticipation of more online learning in the new school year.
"We recognize there’ll be some that choose to learn online, there’ll be other times that we might have to shift to an online instruction platform through the course of the year," Hutchinson said. "We hope that we'll be able to stick with the in-classroom instruction and keep that option open through the school year, but we know that we have to have other options."
Hutchinson established the Arkansas Rural Connect program in August 2019 with an initial investment of $25 million in state funds. The program provides grants to communities of at least 500 people seeking to offer access to high-speed broadband.
Arkansas schools are required to open for in-class instruction each weekday upon resuming classes next week, though students can still take virtual classes. Tuesday’s increase of 410 new coronavirus cases included 85 inmates of correctional facilities. As of Tuesday the state had 5,898 active cases of COVID-19.