Photo: Arkansas Dept. of Health
COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Arkansas, particularly in the northwest region, but testing – at least in Washington County – has lagged behind the rest of the state recently.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson brought up the topic at his almost-daily press briefing on Thursday. To date, the county has tested around 625 residents per 10,000, compared to nearly 925 statewide. More than 1,200 residents per 10,000 have been tested in Benton County, nearly doubling the rate in Washington County.
The governor claimed on Thursday that testing availability is the same in Washington County as it is in Bentonville and across the rest of the state, but seemed unsure of why testing in the county was so much lower.
“It could be that people for whatever reason are not going in to get tested, maybe they are not pushing that as much, that could be part of the language challenges, the cultural challenges in some of the community, so we want to look at that more carefully as to what do we need to do more,” he said.
The governor announced 687 new cases of the virus in the state on Thursday, bringing the total to 18,062. He said 141 of the new cases come from Northwest Arkansas, including 96 in Washington County.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, of the 5,695 currently known active cases in the state, 1,801 (32%) come from Washington and Benton counties, whose populations make up around 17% of the state’s residents.
Also of concern in Washington County is the high positivity rate among those who have been tested.
Just this week, for example, the positivity rate of those tested in Washington County has been 37.3% (June 24), 43.6% (June 23), 29.3% (June 22) and 17.9% (June 21), according to former Democrat-Gazette reporter Misty Orpin who runs @ArkansasCovid on Twitter. Those numbers are considerably higher than the 10% threshold the governor has touted, and the 5% recommended by the WHO.
Arkansas State Representative Nicole Clowney raised concerns about the high positivity rate this week in a post on her Facebook page.
“We have a problem. Washington County is being grossly under-tested for COVID. When you compare us to Benton County, you see we have dramatically lower test numbers and higher numbers of positives,” she wrote. “Washington County has not had a percent-positivity rate below 10% since May 21. An entire month. A month of a rate that is exponentially higher than the 5% suggested by the World Health Organization. There is no doubt, and there has been no doubt for weeks. We need more testing in Washington County.”
Hospitalizations in the state are up 17 since yesterday for a total of 284, and 66 patients are on a ventilator, which is eight more than on Wednesday. There were two new deaths, bringing the statewide toll to 242.
Upcoming testing events
The Health Department will conduct three free drive-thru COVID-19 testing events in Northwest Arkansas over the next few weeks, according to Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith.
The first event will take place at NWA Community College in Bentonville from 4-8 p.m. on Friday, June 26.
Fayetteville events are set from 4-8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30 and from 7-11 a.m. on Saturday, July 11 at the Washington County Health Unit, located at 3270 Wimberly Drive.
The free events are available for anyone regardless of whether they are showing any symptoms of the illness.
The two Fayetteville testing events were not listed on the ADH website as of Thursday afternoon.
We found two others happening in Washington County this weekend, however. According to the ADH website, the VA Medical Center at in Fayetteville will also host a drive-thru testing event for VA members and their families from 7-11 a.m. on Saturday, June 27.
A testing event is also listed on the ADH website for members of St. Raphael’s Church in Springdale from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 28.