LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Arkansas as over 6,500 were recorded on Tuesday. COVID-19 testing has seen a rapid increase as a result of it.
“The demand is probably greater than it ever has been before for testing because of the volume of cases,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.
Long lines at testing sites across Arkansas are becoming more frequent with wait times up to three hours. Hutchinson said he understands sometimes people can’t – or don’t want to – wait in those lines.
“There’s a limit there whenever they see a line that is so long it might take more than an hour to get through it we don’t want to keep at people discourage people to get the test,” Hutchinson said.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences requested assistance from the Arkansas National Guard to help them expand their testing capabilities. UAMS is dealing with its own staffing issues because of Covid and the increase in demand.
“We are stretched thin more than we ever have been. Having the guardsmen here really helps us to make sure that we can keep these lines moving and we don’t have to shut down,” UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said.
Lieutenant Colonel William Phillips with the Arkansas National Guard said they are there to help with logistics more than handling the medical side of things.
“We’re basically taking care of the administrative side of things that way bring up the healthcare workers, the professionals, to do their jobs. They don’t have to worry about check-ins and pre-screenings, we take care of the easy stuff so that they can take care of the hard stuff,” Lt. Col. Phillips said.
The Guard was able to jump right into action without having to be debriefed or trained up on anything because this is what they normally do.
“We were already ready and already poised, it’s kind of what we’re designed to do so all the governor has to say is hey we need you and we’re there immediately,” Lt. Col. Phillips explained.
On Monday UAMS set a record of completing 877 tests. Dr. Patterson believes it’s a record that will not last very long at the current pace.
“I think it’ll be really hard for us to get to 1000 tests a day, but my expectation is we’re probably going to be breaking records day after day with the number of tests that we do,” Dr. Patterson said.
UAMS will be able to expand its testing site thanks to assistance from the National Guard. They have increased their drive-thru to three lanes now and will be expanding their operational hours to seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.
On Tuesday Governor Hutchinson authorized the deployment of 50 total guardsmen around the state to be able to assist with ongoing testing efforts.