Arkansas Sets Statewide COVID-19 Testing Framework As Deaths Rise To 45

Apr 23, 2020

Gov. Asa Hutchinson points to an announcement urging Arkansans with symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is urging all Arkansans with symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested within the next two days as the total number of coronavirus cases in the state increased Thursday to 2,465. That's 189 additional cases since Wednesday, along with three more deaths for a total of 45.

Hutchinson announced the statewide Arkansas Surge Campaign in his daily briefing, saying uninsured residents should not hesitate to get tested if they have symptoms, including fever, tiredness and a dry cough.

“If they want to get a test, they get a test. Period,” Hutchinson said.

The governor also told reporters he had accepted an interim report from a group of medical experts tasked with studying ways to expand coronavirus testing in the state. Their recommendations include expanding testing for all patients who are symptomatic or were exposed to someone with COVID-19, as well as expanding testing for contact tracing investigations and enhanced screening for the disease in high-risk settings.

The group’s final recommendation is to develop a statewide strategy for serological testing, also known as antibody testing. Those tests differ from the more common polymerase chain reaction test, or PCR, in that they determine whether someone has ever been infected with the coronavirus as opposed to if they are currently infected.

Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said more work needs to be done to improve the accuracy of antibody testing before the results can be used to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

A graph displays the number of new coronavirus cases in Arkansas.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

“If we develop antibody tests that are reliable, and marry those tests with what we know about the biology of COVID-19 infections, it can help us enormously in determining population prevalence and what needs to be done to manage communities that may have either very low or very high amounts of past exposure to COVID-19,” Patterson said.

Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said even if the accuracy of antibody testing is improved, it’s still not clear whether having contracted the virus in the past provides immunity for people to future infections. He said expanding antibody testing is a less urgent priority than the other recommendations for identifying more active cases.

“The purpose of testing is to identify people who are infected, stop the spread of COVID-19 and ultimately to save lives. And it is quite possible to do lots of testing without accomplishing any of those three goals,” Smith said. “So the strategy the governor has presented is designed to utilize our capacity very strategically so that we can identify those who are infected, interrupt or stop the spread of COVID-19, and ultimately save lives.”

As of Thursday, 101 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas and 24 were on a ventilator. The number of cases at the Cummins Unit state prison near Pine Bluff increased to 687 inmates and 35 staff, while the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in the state increased to 45.