By Ray King

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he has asked the Arkansas National Guard to assist health officials in testing every prison inmate in the state for COVID-19.

At his daily press briefing, Hutchinson said new Secretary of Corrections, Solomon Graves, requested the mass testing after outbreaks of COVID-19 were reported at several prison units. Hutchinson said 10 members of the National Guard who have medical training will be assigned to the task.

Inmates at correctional facilities where the outbreaks occurred were tested after the outbreak occurred but not every inmate at every state facility was tested at that time.

The latest daily numbers of cases of COVID-19 showed that there were 912 new cases of the virus, 158 of them in correctional facilities, specifically the Delta Unit in Chicot County, which had the highest number of cases of any county in the state.

Pulaski County was second with 79 cases, followed by Sebastian County with 51, Washington County with 42 and Mississippi County with 35. Garland County had 29 cases, Craighead County had 28 Saline County 26, Pope County 24, Ashley and Crittenden Counties 21 and Benton County 20.

There were 516 people hospitalized, 10 fewer than on Tuesday and there were 15 additional deaths, bringing the state total to 508.

At the press conference, the Governor also announced that he has named Dr. Jose Romero as the new Secretary of Health. Romero has been the acting secretary since former Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith left the state for a job with the Centers for Disease Control.