By Ray King

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Monday said the state is not backing off on testing for COVID-19 despite a statement by President Donald Trump during a campaign rally Saturday. Trump said more testing resulted in higher numbers of the virus and said less testing should occur. He later said that statement was in jest.

During his daily COVID-19 update, Hutchinson said additional testing is a way to deal with the spread of the virus. He also said he had spoken to Vice-President Pence who emphasized that the national policy is to increase testing.

Regarding the spread of COVID-19, on Sunday there were 15,561 cases reported with an additional 522 over the past 24 hours for a new total of 16,083. Of those, 5,065 are considered active cases.

Currently, 237 people are hospitalized and there have been 184 deaths,

Washington County in Northwest Arkansas had the highest number of cases in the state with 124, followed by Benton County and Hot Spring County.

State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith said most of the 85 new cases in Hot Spring County were reported at the Ouachita River Correctional facility at Malvern where more than 188 inmates have tested positive. He said that about 800 inmates at that facility have been tested so far and testing is continuing.

The subject of a directive mandating the wearing of a mask when social distancing is not possible came up and Smith said the question of wearing a mask verses requiring them to wear one depends on what portion of people would use them properly in certain situations.

The Governor and CEO’s of several Central Arkansas Hospitals also talked about hospital bed capacity as additional cases of COVID-19 are reported. Hutchinson said there are 8,917 hospital beds in the state and currently, 71 percent of them are occupied, a majority of those for illnesses other than COVID-19.

Troy Wells, the CEO of Baptist Health in Little Rock said COVID patients “haven’t created a critical care patient load” and the CEO OF St. Vincent’s in Little Rock said COVID-19 patients account for five-percent of his hospital’s patients.

Cam Patterson, the Chancellor of UAMS said hospitals within the state are close enough that should the load at any one of them, particularly in Northwest Arkansas where the largest number of new cases are reported, those patients can be transferred to other hospitals in central Arkansas. At the same time, if additional healthcare providers are needed at those hospitals, they can contact UAMS “and we will make it happen.”