The daily increase in new coronavirus cases in Arkansas has had its third-highest spike since the pandemic began as more than 400 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized with the disease.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced 751 Arkansans tested positive for the coronavirus Friday for a total of 26,803, while the state’s COVID-19 death toll rose by four to 313. The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 increased by 8 to 402, with 84 patients on a ventilator.
Speaking at the University of Arkansas Cossatot Community College in De Queen, Hutchinson called on the federal government to help mitigate the effects of a shortage of coronavirus testing supplies.
“We need quick results. That helps us to manage the outbreak, to control it, to isolate people that need to be isolated, and so we want to watch that and hopefully with national support we can get more resources in our commercial labs so we can get a quicker response time that will help us in states like Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said that shortage, coupled with increasing virus activity in states across the country, is having a ripple effect on coronavirus testing turnaround time in Arkansas. He said this month requires an average of 2.5 days for the state Health Department to receive a test result, up from an average of 1.6 days in April.
“Because of the high population states of Texas, of California, Arizona, Florida, that have an increase in cases, that pressure point on the six commercial labs that are all located outside of Arkansas will delay their response time and their ability to get testing results back to us,” Hutchinson said.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith highlighted the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on Sevier County, of which De Queen is the county seat. He said the county’s coronavirus testing positivity rate of 17.9% is more than double the statewide average of 7.2%, and that, despite making up a little over one-third of the county’s population, Latinos account for almost two-thirds of the county’s total COVID-19 cases.
Hot Spring County had the highest number of new cases Friday with 145 people testing positive. Smith said that’s likely due to a continued outbreak at the Ouachita River Unit state prison in Malvern, even though the Health Department previously tested all inmates and staff for the coronavirus.
“If someone is exposed, initially tests negative but then develops symptoms, you’ve got to go back and retest them. And that's exactly what's happened. There were individuals who were exposed, they actually were infected, but they initially tested negative because it was too early in their infection to have a positive result,” Smith said.
Smith said the resurgence at the Ouachita River Unit underscores the need for “serial testing,” a practice recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where individuals at high risk of coronavirus exposure are tested multiple times.
“That is a strategy that we will use as we’re able. Obviously right now with some constraints on supply chains and testing, we may not be able to fully implement that recommendation everywhere that it would be useful,” Smith said.
Arkansas had 5,847 active COVID-19 cases as of Friday including 584 inmates of correctional facilities. An additional 100 residents of Pulaski County tested positive for the virus, with a combined increase of 105 new cases from Washington and Benton counties.