Today I’d like to talk about our COVID-19 testing and a new partnership with the Arkansas Community Health Centers.
In an effort to flatten the curve and increase testing for COVID-19, I have consistently encouraged individuals with a simple message: “If you think you have symptoms, don’t wait – get tested.”
On April 21st, I created a Testing Advisory Group to expand and increase testing in the state. We have increased testing in high-risk settings, such as long-term care facilities. We have expanded testing to include all people who think they have been exposed to the virus, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.
At the beginning of this month, we set a goal of conducting 60,000 tests during the month of May. If we are able to do 60,000 tests, that’s 2% of our state population and a key part of the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommendations for ramping up states’ testing numbers.
Since we had the first positive case in Arkansas on March 11th, when we first declared the emergency, we started increasing our testing. As of May 14th, we had a little over 29,000 this month. To put that in perspective, since March 11th, (or over the last 65 days) we have done about 81,000 tests. So even though we’re not to our goal yet, the nearly 30,000 in the first two weeks in May alone shows we are on the right track, and we are optimistic about meeting our goal.
Earlier this week, I announced a new partnership with the Community Health Centers across Arkansas. When CEO, LaShannon Spencer, called upon her community health centers and asked them what more they can do to support the testing initiative of our state. In response, they committed to provide over 2,000 test collections, per week, in May to add to this objective of reaching our 60,000 goal. Their health centers across the state are offering multiple testing sites, including drive-thru screenings and testing tents, all free of charge.
I was delighted by a conversation that took place in my office between Ms. Spencer and Secretary of Health Nate Smith. When LaShannon said all we need are swabs and we might need some help with that, Dr. Smith responded, “Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty.”
When you are talking about PPE and supply chain and working together for the health and safety of all Arkansans, that’s exactly what you want to hear. I applaud the leadership of the community health centers and our public health officials for working together in this critical partnership.
Another great partnership is with Walmart. They have partnered to provide approximately 130 mobile testing units across the country. Currently, they have three operating in Bentonville, Little Rock, and Fort Smith; and just this week announced additional sites in Jonesboro, Hot Springs, Texarkana, and West Memphis.
During this Phase One period of lifting restrictions, we must expand our economy, but we have to manage the expansion to minimize the virus impact.
If we’re in a war, radar tells us where the enemy is on the horizon. Testing is our radar system; and tracking is our first defense. It gives us an early warning capability for where there’s an increased potential of an outbreak so we can get a handle on it. And that is our objective.
We have to learn to live and manage and work through the potential of COVID-19 in the next year until we get a vaccine. And to accomplish that, testing is a critical part having the proper infrastructure in place.