Arkansas is getting a large supply of antigen test kits which will greatly expand the screening of individuals who are in positions that put them at a high risk of catching the coronavirus.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday that the state has received 100,000 Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests and will get an additional 50,000 per week until it reaches a planned allotment of 900,000. The test kits provide results within 15 minutes, which will allow health officials to take a new approach to screening.
“This is a plan that we can utilize at the state level to really help us to identify new cases in ways that we haven’t before,” Hutchinson said. “This is the first time we’ve developed a plan for sentinel testing or surveillance testing that goes beyond simply symptomatic or exposure type testing. So this is a new world for us that will give us new benefits for this testing.”
The kits will be utilized to test frontline workers in healthcare, prisons, human development centers and schools, rather than only those who are symptomatic of having the virus.
Melissa Stone, disabilities services director at the Department of Human Service, said they are grateful for the tests. With over 900 clients and 1,800 human development employees, they are looking forward to being able to regularly test their staff.
“The human development center, for those who don’t know about them, take care of individuals with profound intellectual disabilities. We serve about 900 clients across the state and have about 1,800 staff, so we are looking forward to testing 100% of our human development staff on a weekly basis,” Stone said.
Education Secretary Johnny Key said the tests will go to schools most at risk. Health officials and educators are watching for any emerging information that might show developing hot spots for rising cases, he said. At each facility, training is underway for people to know how to use these tests.
“We’ll be looking at the red zone districts from the ACHI [Arkansas Center for Health Improvement] weekly data, the districts that have schools with a history of on-site modifications, districts that may have a current high case number, and then any emerging information that may come about that shows that a hot spot could be developing,” Key said.
The new test plan was announced on the same day that Hutchinson reported 21 additional deaths due to COVID-19. There were also 1,079 new cases of people testing positive for the virus, he said, with 884 of those coming from PCR tests and 195 probably cases through antigen testing.
The governor said the number of people hospitalized Wednesday declined by 18 compared to Tuesday. That is the second day in a row for the state to see a decrease in hospitalizations after reaching record highs last week.