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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Wednesday, July 22, 2020, during his daily covid-19 briefing at the Center for Exercise on the campus of Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville. Check out nwaonline.com/200723Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk) adgycorona20200723

FAYETTEVILLE -- The National Guard is helping Washington Regional Medical Center at its covid-19 call center, allowing health care workers to focus on patients, the hospital's president said Wednesday during Gov. Asa Hutchinson's press briefing.

Hutchinson announced Monday he authorized 10 soldiers from the National Guard to assist the hospital, where he held his almost-daily briefing Wednesday.

"We have been able this week to return eight nurses to direct patient care," said Larry Shackelford, chief executive officer and president at Washington Regional.

Staff at the call center screens callers for covid-19. The National Guard will be on site for 30 days, said Natalie Hardin, spokeswoman for the hospital.

Washington Regional has adequate staff to handle covid-19 patients and most of the 305 full-time staff who were furloughed in April have returned to work, Hardin said.

Neither Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers nor Northwest Health System, which has medical centers in Bentonville and Springdale, have asked for National Guard assistance, spokeswomen for the hospitals said.

Sixty-seven covid-19 patients were in Benton and Washington county hospitals as of Wednesday, according to a joint statement from the region's hospitals via Martine Pollard, spokeswoman at Mercy.

Washington Regional has three covid-19 units totaling 54 beds. The hospital doesn't release how many covid-19 patients it has. Hardin said the third unit, which has 16 beds, wasn't in use Wednesday, meaning the hospital has 38 or fewer covid-19 patients. The hospital had to open the third unit for the first time last week because it had more than 38 patients, she said.

Mercy had its highest number of patients at 45 about two weeks ago, Eric Pinalto, Mercy president, said during Hutchinson's briefing. That number has declined to the mid-20s, he said.

Pinalto said the hospital is seeing more noncovid-19 patients because people are avoiding seeking medical care and waiting until they need emergency medical care.

"If you are sick, seek care," he said.

Mercy has 60 beds for covid-19 patients, according to Jennifer Cook, spokeswoman. Hospital administration has said it could use the top two empty floors of its new seven-story tower for covid-19 patients if necessary. Mercy hasn't needed to use those floors, according to Cook.

Northwest Health has 51 beds for covid-19 patients, according to Beth Wright, spokeswoman.

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Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Wednesday, July 22, 2020, during his daily covid-19 briefing at the Center for Exercise on the campus of Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville. Check out nwaonline.com/200723Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk) adgycorona20200723
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Dr. Jose Romero (left) speaks Wednesday, July 22, 2020, during the daily covid-19 briefing at the Center for Exercise on the campus of Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville. Check out nwaonline.com/200723Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk) adgycorona20200723
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The numbers

Washington County had 5,312 cases, including 702 active cases, as of Wednesday afternoon. Benton County had 3,939 cases, including 471 active cases. The number of active cases represents the number of the people with the virus who haven’t recovered.

Source: Arkansas Department of Health

The story was updated to include the number of beds at the hospital for covid patients.

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