The state received antigen testing machines it plans to assign to public health units throughout the state for quick-turnaround tests, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in his coronavirus briefing Monday.

So far the state received 100 BD Veritor Plus antigen testing machines and has another 100 on order. The state hasn’t yet received the testing kits to go with the equipment, but Hutchinson said the kits “have been pledged to us by the middle of this month.” The public health units that are assigned the antigen testing equipment will be instructed to give priority of quick-turnaround tests for people in the K-12 environment – students, teachers, staff members.

“I think that is something that will be useful,” Hutchinson said, adding that getting the equipment was part of the plan to be ready for school. “The antigen tests that we provide (at the public health units)will be free of cost.”

Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero stressed the importance of Arkansans getting an influenza vaccine this year. He said it’s important with the pandemic to not overwhelm hospitals with patients who could have avoided the flu.

Dr. Romero said the health department expects to see more people than usual getting the flu shot this year and have prepared for it.

“We are ramping up immunizations for influenza,” he said.

With a rising number of cases of COVID-19 in rural areas of the state, the governor warned everyone against becoming complacent.

“There’s not any area of Arkansas where someone should be relaxed and think the virus isn’t there,” Hutchinson said. “You’ve got to be careful whether it’s a rural or urban area.”

He once again stressed the importance of masks when social distancing of at least 6 feet isn’t feasible.

“Wearing a mask is a great tool to stop the spread of the virus,” Hutchinson said.

He added that “if there is compliance,” then Arkansas would start seeing a drop in cases.

The state set a goal to complete 190,000 tests plus 10,000 antigen tests in Arkansas this month. The state narrowly missed its goal of 200,000 tests in July with 194,836 tests given last month.

“We have to set aggressive goals and achieve those in order to make a difference,” Hutchinson said.

As of Monday, 475 Arkansans have died as a result of COVID-19. There are 513 people in hospitals across the state with the virus. Since Sunday, 787 more Arkansans have tested positive. Since the start of the pandemic, 44,597 people in Arkansas have tested positive for COVID-19.

Jeanette Anderton can be reached at janderton@thecabin.net.

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