The Investigators: Why fewer people are being tested in Arkansas than in Mississippi and Tennessee

Arkansas testing lags behind neighboring states

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has set a goal of testing 60,000 people for COVID-19 by the end of May.

The reason is because Arkansas’s test rate is far below other states in the Mid-South.

Just over 113,100 tests have been done in Mississippi and 325,280 in Tennessee.

That equates to about 2.7% of Arkansans, 3.6% Mississippians and 4.7% of Tennesseans have been tested for COVID-19.

“You pointed out the reason we want to ramp up the testing,” said Hutchinson in a press conference Friday. “As to why it’s been low in the past -- it’s the availability of equipment and supplies and capability.”

According to Hutchinson, when COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, Arkansas didn’t have the same access to tests as Mississippi and Tennessee.

“The resources went to hotspots. Mississippi had very serious outbreaks. They were able to get those testing capabilities,” he said. “Tennessee, you can see the level of cases they’ve had, the hospitalizations and so, they were a higher priority in terms of testing resources.”

“The focus was on symptomatic individuals because they did want to use our limited testing capabilities as a nation in those areas where we had the most cases," said Dr. Nate Smith, Arkansas state health director. “We had fewer individuals with symptoms at that time.”

With more testing now available, Arkansas officials say just over 29,000 people have been tested in May so far. The state also released a new map that shows where people can get tested, including at local health units.

Crittenden County currently has 216 cases of COVID-19.

“West Memphis does have one of the higher case numbers compared to all counties,” said Smith. “But they have considerably fewer cases than Memphis across the river.”

Our COVID-19 case map shows that while Shelby County has more cases than Crittenden County, Crittenden has more cases per capita than Shelby and DeSoto counties.

However, Smith would not go as far as to call Crittenden a hotspot.

“I’ve learned not to use the word hot spot around you guys because it’s very open to interpretation,” he said.

Samples collected at local health units will be sent to the state lab. The results could take anywhere from 24 hours to a week.

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