Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced he would sign a letter of intent to partner with the Rockefeller Foundation and other states to enhance the buying power with commercial labs testing for COVID-19 during his regular briefing Wednesday.

The state has seen a drop in testing performance in commercial labs, which contributed to Arkansas coming up shy of its 200,000 testing goal in July.

Hutchinson said that through a partnership with the foundation and other states – he did not provide a list of states Wednesday – he hopes to “strengthen our place in the marketplace” by giving commercial labs a commitment for purchasing in the future and what the expected demand would be.

“Hopefully that will increase our access to commercial labs for the benefit of Arkansas,” he said.

The governor said seeing the recent improvement in cases in northwest Arkansas, which was previously a hot spot in the state, was encouraging and should be a model for all regions.

“It’s encouraging to me that with a concentrated effort and the discipline of citizens of Arkansas to wear a mask and socially distance, we can turn it around,” the governor said.

He warned everyone against being complacent.

“No one is immune because you’re young and nobody is exempt because you’re healthy,” the governor said.

Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said that when school starts, data will be broken down by school district and/or extra-curricular activity. He said the Arkansas Department of Health was still discussing the logistics of being able to break down the data per school.

The state announced 703 new cases for a cumulative total of 51,114. As of Wednesday, 573 people in the state had died as a result of COVID-19.

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

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