Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a new partnership with Walmart and Quest Diagnostics during his daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday.

The initiative is in regard to a pilot project to provide a drive- thru testing facility in Bentonville, which focuses on first responders and health care workers that show symptoms.

“This will put a vocal point on them to make sure they have immediate access to testing if they need it,” Hutchinson said. “I’m very proud of this partnership.”

At the beginning of the news conference, the governor apologized for being a few minutes late due to being on a call with Vice President Mike Pence. He said they were discussing Arkansas’ possibility of needing more ventilators – the state allocated an additional $45 million to buy them in addition to more protective equipment for medical workers.

Hutchinson said if we need more ventilators down the road, the vice president gave him the confidence that Arkansas would get what it needed.

In addition, he said, he raised the issue of the projected model Arkansas has been using to predict COVID-19 numbers. On Tuesday, Hutchinson said the state was coming in under the projected numbers, which he said federal officials were happy about on Wednesday during the call.

Currently, Arkansas has 584 positive cases with 10 deaths.

The state has been able to perform a total of 7,977 tests.

Hutchinson said Dr. Nate Smith, with the Arkansas Department of Health, has worked hard with labs across the state. In the last 24 hours, UAMS has been able to perform 65 tests, ADH has done 147 and commercial labs have come through with 691.

“That was another exciting point to the vice president,” he said. “That’s more than 800 tests in the last 24 hours.”

During the update, Hutchinson also announced his recommendation to the secretary of interior that the Buffalo River National Park in Newton County be closed to limit the spread.

In addition, Arkansas Secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst spoke about several new state restrictions starting Friday:

Crowded trails, including Cedar Falls trail at Petit Jean Mountain State Park, are closed

East and west summit trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park are closed

Overnight use of state parks will no longer be allowed

Parking is limited

Rangers are able to enforce park rules more strictly

Staff writer Hilary Andrews can be reached at handrews@thecabin.net

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