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Group casts doubt on Arkansas supplies as virus tests spike

April 24, 2020 GMT
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Regina Nelson, left, is tested for the coronavirus by Gina Johnson, a nurse tech, at the Bono Family Medical Clinic drive-thru testing site on Friday, April 24, 2020, in Bono, Ark. (Quentin Winstine/The Jonesboro Sun via AP)
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Regina Nelson, left, is tested for the coronavirus by Gina Johnson, a nurse tech, at the Bono Family Medical Clinic drive-thru testing site on Friday, April 24, 2020, in Bono, Ark. (Quentin Winstine/The Jonesboro Sun via AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A hospital advocacy group cast doubt on the availability of coronavirus testing supplies in Arkansas as officials said Friday that the number of tests completed in a day nearly tripled its recent average.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said more than 2,800 coronavirus tests were completed Thursday. The state has been averaging 1,000 tests a day in the past two weeks. Hutchinson launched a two-day “surge” of tests on Friday and Saturday, as well as an ad campaign encouraging anyone with symptoms to get tested.

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“It clearly indicates we are doing more testing, more is being done. It just took a while for that to catch up,” Hutchinson said.

The governor has said he plans to announce in the coming days whether he’ll lift some restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

The reason for the jump in tests completed wasn’t immediately clear, though officials said a large number came from commercial labs.

The Arkansas Hospital Association said it hadn’t been been consulted about the two-day plan to ramp up testing before it was announced.

“We know that that many of you continue to have issues around ongoing scarcity of test kits and other supplies,” the group told its members in an email sent Thursday .

Hutchinson said he talked directly with several hospitals ahead of the announcement and that he’s assured them the state will hand-deliver supplies if needed for the additional tests.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas also raised concerns about test availability. The group also said the state’s move to resume elective surgeries could still effectively ban surgical abortions because of a lack of tests.

The group represents the state’s only surgical abortion clinic, Little Rock Family Planning Services. The clinic has been prohibited from performing most surgical abortions under an order banning elective procedures during the pandemic.

The state is easing the elective procedures ban starting Monday, but is requiring patients be tested for the virus within 48 hours of their procedure.

“While we are still reviewing the governor’s latest order, given the widespread unavailability of testing, we have serious concerns that it will continue to act as a ban on abortion care,” Holly Dickson, legal director and interim executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement.

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Hutchinson said the clinic is being asked to follow the same rules as other health providers.

“In other words, they just don’t want to follow what we’re having to do for all of our clinics that engage in elective procedures,” he said.

Health officials said the number of coronavirus cases in Arkansas has increased from at least 2,465 on Thursday to at least 2,741 Friday, and the number of deaths rose overnight from 45 to 46. The number of infections is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Meanwhile Friday, the state Board of Corrections cleared the way for more than 1,200 nonviolent inmates to be considered for release following a virus outbreak at a state prison. All inmates will be screened for the coronavirus and any with symptoms will be tested.

The Health Department said the number of positive cases at the Cummins Unit has risen to 690 inmates and 30 staff.

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Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak