Arkansas health secretary says more testing needed; prison COVID cases rise to around 600

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 640 views 

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith on Monday (April 20) asked doctors to begin testing more patients with COVID-19 symptoms, saying commercial labs have the capacity.

Smith, who made his remarks during Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily COVID-19 press briefing, said commercial lab tests results are now coming back “much more quickly than they were even a week or two ago.”

Prior to Smith’s comments, Gov. Hutchinson said a Tuesday meeting is set with those involved in testing labs to find ways to expand the number of tests and who is tested. As of Monday, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) reported that 26,483 tests have been conducted.

“In order to get the best idea, though, we really need clinicians out there to be testing those who have COVID-19-like syndromes, or symptoms. … That is our best way of getting the best handle on how we are doing throughout the state, if we have providers throughout the state testing those who have symptoms,” Smith said.

In response to a media question, Smith said the state is testing on average around 1,000 a day, but was unwilling to suggest a target number of tests because he is focused on the number of positive cases per test.

“As long as our percent positive remains low and continues to decrease, we are going in the right direction,” he said.

However, questions remain with the ADH testing numbers. For example, Rep. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood, a physician and medical director for Fort Smith EMS and Southwest EMS, reported April 17 that around 1,300 tests have been conducted in Sebastian County. However, the ADH website reports only 120 tests. Because the ADH only shows tests processed through its facility and area testing sites are sending many of their tests to outside laboratories, the ADH number of tests administered are not accurate, Johnson said.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 1,923 as of Monday afternoon, up from 1,781 on Sunday. Of the 142 new cases between Sunday and Monday, 117 were in the Cummins state prison.

Of the total of cases, 1,133 are active, with the remainder accounting for deaths and recoveries. The number of deaths rose from 40 to 42. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 93 on Monday, up from 88 on Sunday. As of Monday at 1 p.m., there were 761,991 U.S. cases and 40,724 deaths, with 14,451 of those in New York City. Globally, there were 2,435,876 cases and 167,369 deaths.

Of the COVID-19 patients, 24 were on ventilators, down from 25 on Sunday. The number of healthcare workers with COVID-19 was 244, up from 237 on Sunday.

Not all of the positive cases at Cummins are included in the 1,923 total cases. Smith said the state is working to get all lab result data into the total numbers. He said around 600 inmates have tested positive, with only three being hospitalized.

The governor also stressed that although May 4 has been mentioned as a target date to begin to reopen parts of the economy, it’s important for residents to stick with social distancing guidelines and other measures in place to contain the virus spread. He said such rules will remain in effect even after May 4.

“We just want to be able to go back to more employment and more business activity consistent with those social distancing requirements. And so that is our future. We want our cases to decline in our communities, and we’ve got to continue to reduce the spread to accomplish that,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

He also said he is “certainly” willing to pull back on any measures to reopen the economy if restrictions are lifted but the number of cases begins to rise.

“We can tighten it back down again,” he said.