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Arkansas deploys National Guard to help with COVID tests

January 4, 2022 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ governor on Tuesday deployed National Guard members to help with hospitals’ COVID-19 testing sites as the state’s coronavirus cases continued to spike.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he’s authorized 50 Guard members to assist at hospitals around the state, in addition to 10 that were deployed Monday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

The additional help comes as the state’s hospitals are seeing increased demand for testing, with the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 fueling a massive jump in cases in Arkansas and nationwide.

The state reported 6,562 new cases, the biggest one-day jump since the pandemic began. The number of new cases is likely higher because of people testing at home or people who are infected but haven’t been tested.

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“We’re entering a period of probably the greatest risk and the greatest challenge that we’ve faced during the pandemic,” Hutchinson said at his weekly news briefing.

Hutchinson said the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate hit a new record as well, at 25.5% The state’s COVID-19 deaths rose by 27 to 9,248 and hospitalizations increased by 53 to 775.

Hutchinson said the number of guard members deployed to hospitals could increase if needed.

The Republican governor asked school districts to consider whether to implement mask requirements, following a judge’s ruling last week striking down the state’s ban on mask mandates. Dozens of schools had imposed such requirements after the law was blocked in August, but loosened or lifted the mandates as the state’s virus cases eased in the fall.

Groups representing the state’s pediatricians and teachers on Monday urged schools to require masks to prevent the virus’ spread.