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Virus screening at local Health Unit to start on Monday

Posted on May 18, 2020

By Caitlan Butler
Managing Editor/El Dorado News-Times 

The Arkansas Department of Health announced Friday that local health units, including the Union County Health Unit at 301 American Road (across the drive from the Union County Sheriff’s Office), will begin offering COVID-19 testing Monday, May 18.

According to a press release from the ADH, the state’s residents are encouraged to contact their local health units if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, if they’ve traveled to a COVID-19 ‘hotspot’ or if they have been exposed to a positive case or believe themselves to have been.

Those who are tested will be asked to collect a nasal swab specimen themselves

with a provided swab and container. Danyelle McNeill, a spokesperson for the ADH, said in an email correspondence nurses will observe each patients’ self-collection

to ensure it is done accurately. The steps for self-collection, she said, are:

1. Open the wrapper containing the swab

2. Take the soft end of the swab and place it midway in one nostril, rotate it twice and hold it in the nostril for 15 seconds

3. Remove the swab and repeat the process in the other nostril

4. Open the specimen tube and place the soft end of the swab inside

5. Break off the top of the swab’s stick to place the cap on the tube

“Additionally, we are collecting a nasal specimen which requires the swab to be inserted midway in the nostril. The nasopharyngeal specimen is more invasive as the swab must reach the posterior nasopharynx,” she said.

Those seeking a test are urged to contact the health unit in advance of their visit to allow workers time to prepare. Those that test positive will be notified immediately upon their results’ receipt.

The ADH press release says no out of pocket costs will be charged for testing, but that those who are insured may be billed later.

The testing initiative comes as Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he wants to ramp up Arkansas’s testing capacity. He said during a daily health update Friday the state had performed 29,389 tests so far in May.

COVID-19 testing is also available to the Medical Center of South Arkansas and South Arkansas Medical Association. On Tuesday, MCSA workers decked out in personal protective equipment (PPE), including plastic face guards in addition to face masks, could be seen performing tests outside the hospital before a drive-by parade held in recognition of National Hospital Week took place.

According to the ADH, at least 272 tests had been performed in Union County between May 1 and 5 p.m. Friday. In all, 589 test results have been returned to the county, with 484 returning negative and 105 returning positive.

On Thursday, Union County saw the largest increase in confirmed cases of any Arkansas county, jumping by 21 from Wednesday to 105.

Since May 1, local cases have almost doubled from the 54 that had been confirmed then. At 5 p.m. Friday, the ADH still reported 105 confirmed cases in Union County, with two new recoveries and no new deaths, leaving 36 active, which represents 34.3% of cases the county has had. No new cases had been confirmed at Courtyard Nursing and Rehab by Friday afternoon.

According to the ADH, 61.9%, or 65 of 105, of those in the county who have contracted COVID-19 have since recovered, while 3.8% have died. The county’s positivity rate was 17.8% Friday afternoon.

Cases in Arkansas grew to 4,463 between Thursday and Friday, an increase of 97 cases, 18 of which are in prison inmates, ADH Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said. Union County’s confirmed cases represent 2.3% of all cases in Arkansas, though Union County is among other counties with larger populations and/or larger congregate settings experiencing outbreaks as having some of the most infections in the state.

State parks were allowed to reopen Friday. Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said reservation levels are near those of 2019, prior to the pandemic, on Friday. The majority of those reservations are held by Arkansans, but 29% are from out-ofstate visitors, who will be screened before being allowed park entry, Hurst said.

Hutchinson also announced the state had approved a plan from TempleLive, a former Masonic Temple-now concert venue in Fort Smith, for a re-scheduled iteration of a Travis McCready concert now planned for Monday.

Prior to their agreement to reschedule the concert, the venue’s liquor license was pulled by the state and Hutchinson had threatened legal enforcement of state directives should the venue have gone on with the concert, which was originally scheduled to take place last night. Large venues will all be allowed to reopen at a maximum capacity of 50 Monday, May 18.

No new deaths were reported in Arkansas between Thursday and Friday. The state has a positivity rate of 5.4% and a mortality rate of 2.2%.

At 6 p.m. Friday, the ADH reported 1,441,172 confirmed cases in the United States, with 246,414 recoveries and 87,427 deaths reported, leaving 1,107,331 cases active. Arkansas’s caseload represents .4% of all cases in the United States and the state’s deaths account for .1% of all the country’s deaths.

Globally, according to the World Health Organization, cases reached 4,347,935 confirmed Friday afternoon, with 297,241 deaths attributable to COVID-19 reported worldwide, representing a mortality rate of 6.8%. U.S. cases represent 33.1% of all cases worldwide.