Speaking at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Gov. Asa Hutchinson confirmed that there are 22 total cases of coronavirus in Arkansas now.
He initially said there were 20 cases, however, state chief medical officer Dr. Nate Smith clarified that six additional cases have been detected since yesterday, March 15. Of the six cases, four were tested by the Department of Health (ADH) and two were reported by private labs.
Hutchinson said that the virus has spread out of the four counties – Jefferson, Pulaski, Garland and Saline – that the virus was originally confined. The new county that coronavirus has impacted is Cleburne County.
According to the ADH website, there are 14 individuals being investigated for coronavirus infection and 258 who are being monitored with daily check-ins for possible infections. There have been 132 individuals who have been under investigation who have had negative test results.
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson joined Hutchinson, Smith and other health and education officials at the conference. He said that Arkansas should be seeing a “significant increase” in the number of tests that will be able to be performed.
According to Patterson, officials are working to increase testing capacity and lower test result turnaround. By the weekend, he estimates that the test turnaround will be lowered to eight to 10 hours with 250 tests being able to be performed daily.
As a result of the increased testing capacity, Hutchinson expects to see more positive cases of coronavirus in the coming week. Increasing the number of tests is part of the state’s strategy to “be ahead of the curve,” according to Hutchinson, in order to mitigate the virus’ effect and limit community spread.
Smith reiterated this point, saying that the ADH is working to slow the spread of the virus through its tracing and community education efforts. While the efforts might prolong the virus’ timeline, he says it will make it easier to manage coronavirus and its impact on local communities.
Washington Regional Medical Center, the host site for the press conference, has opened two screening clinics for individuals with potential coronavirus infections. One of the clinics is located in Fayetteville and the other is in Eureka Springs. Hutchinson applauded the move, saying that in a phone conversation, both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence urged to set up separate facilities for testing.
“This is the business that we’re in,” Washington Regional CEO Larry Shackelford said. “We do have a plan and we’re enacting that plan.”
When asked why state officials were holding a press conference in Northwest Arkansas, Hutchinson answered that they were “listening” and working to understand the challenges facing Northwest Arkansas during the coronavirus outbreak. There have been no reported coronavirus cases in Northwest Arkansas to date.