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story.lead_photo.caption FILE -- Nurse Ruby Lewis (from left) administers a covid-19 test to Laling Riklon of Springdale, Saturday, May 23, 2020 at the Center for Nonprofits parking lot in Springdale. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

SPRINGDALE -- At least 28 Northwest Arkansas residents have died of covid-19, according to the Benton and Washington county coroners.

Ten people have died in Benton County since June 6, putting the county total at 17, Coroner Daniel Oxford said. At least four of the deaths have been Washington County residents who died in Benton County. No out-of-state residents have died in Benton County, Oxford said.

A 67-year-old Rogers woman, a 57-year-old woman whose city is unknown, a 70-year-old Berryville man, a 54-year-old Springdale woman and an 85-year-old Rogers woman died June 6. A 78-year-old Bentonville man died June 7. An 89-year-old Fayetteville man died June 8. A 31-year-old Springdale woman died June 9. A 46-year-old Springdale woman died June 10, and a 33-year-old Rogers man died June 11. Their identities have not been released.

Four people have died from covid-19 in Washington County since June 5, and a third Oklahoma resident, Johnny Marlin, 73, died May 28 in Washington County, Coroner Roger Morris said. A total of 14 people, including 11 Washington County residents and the three from Oklahoma, have died in the county.

Botta Kakin, 58, of Springdale died June 5 followed by a 72-year-old Springdale man on June 8. An 87-year-old Springdale man died June 9, and a 31-year-old Springdale woman died June 10. Identities have not been released for the latter three.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday during his daily news conference 176 Arkansans have died of the virus.

Cases and hospitalizations

The rise in deaths comes as the region has seen a spike in covid-19 cases over the past few weeks.

Washington County had 1,389 cases with 571 recovered as of 5 p.m. Friday, according to the Health Department. Benton County had 1,219 cases with 636 recovered.

Total cases have more than tripled in Washington County in the past two weeks, although the number of tests hasn't doubled. The total number of cases in Benton County increased about 2.6 times in the past two weeks although the number of tests did not double.

Hutchinson said Friday, of the state's 731 new cases within 24 hours, Washington County had the most community spread with 220 cases; Benton County had 91 cases, and Madison County had 32.

It's hard to say why exactly covid-19 numbers in Northwest Arkansas remained relatively low for some time, but the region is seeing a surge now, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, Arkansas surgeon general, said by phone Thursday.

"I was really surprised how long it took to hit Northwest Arkansas," he said.

It was only a matter of time before the virus struck one of the most populated areas in the state, he said, noting the region's several large employers, poultry plants and university.

"I'm not surprised that it's there, and not that it's rising," Bledsoe said.

Birch Wright, Washington Regional Medical Center's chief operating officer and administrator, released a statement Wednesday that called covid-19 a serious public health emergency for Northwest Arkansas.

"It is important for our community to understand that we are not seeing more hospitalizations simply because more testing is being done. We are seeing more hospitalizations because more people in our area are being infected with the virus," according to the statement.

Mercy Health System said Thursday it echos and supports the message from Washington Regional.

"This threat to each individual's health and to our community is real. We respectfully ask that everyone continue to show support to our health care workers on the front lines by social distancing, washing your hands, wearing masks and staying home if you're sick," according to a statement from Mercy.

Likewise, a Friday statement from Northwest Health System reads, "Northwest Health stands with other area providers in acknowledging the public health emergency that Northwest Arkansas is experiencing with the recent surge in covid-19 cases." The statement encouraged people to follow guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Arkansas Department of Health.

Washington Regional, Mercy and Northwest Health have all said they are prepared for covid-19 patients in terms of space, personal protective equipment, ventilators and staff.

Wright said in his statement more than 70 covid-19 patients were in area hospitals earlier this week.

Washington Regional has 38 beds designated for covid-19 patients, said Natalie Hardin, spokeswoman. The hospital wouldn't release how many covid-19 patients it has. Wright's statement said 30% of Washington Regional's covid-19 patients were on a ventilator. Dr. Jose Romero with the Health Department said at Friday's briefing 49 patients were on ventilators in the state.

Mercy has 60 beds designated for covid-19 patients and had 34 patients as of Thursday, according to Jennifer Cook, spokeswoman. About half of the patients were on a ventilator. The sixth and seventh floors of Mercy's new seven-story tower are unused and can be converted into additional space for covid-19 patients if necessary.

"One important consideration we aren't often asked about are the specialized skills necessary to care for covid-19 patients, who tend to be among the most critically ill patients in the hospital. With the recent surge in cases, Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas was able to ask for help from Mercy Hospitals in St. Louis and Joplin, which sent a group of nurses specializing in intensive care to help," according to Cook.

Northwest Health would not say how many covid-19 patients it has, how many are on a ventilator or how many beds it has for covid-19 patients. Covid-19 patients and the staff treating them are separated from other patients and staff, said Beth Wright, spokeswoman.

Testing

A total of 19,281 people in Benton County and 9,194 people in Washington County since mid-March were tested for the virus as of 5 p.m. Friday, according to the Health Department.

Hutchinson has said his goal is to test 120,000 Arkansans in June.

Specimens to be tested are collected via nasal and mouth swabs. Testing is performed at various commercial labs and the Health Department.

The Health Department began testing at county health units, including Fayetteville and Rogers, across the state May 18. The Fayetteville unit had tested 2,046 people, and the Rogers unit had tested 300 people as of Thursday, according to Danyelle McNeill, Health Department spokeswoman.

Washington Regional collected specimens to be tested from 4,574 people, including 875 people in the past week, from March 16 through Thursday at its screening clinics and Fayetteville hospital, according to Hardin. Patients are encouraged, but not required, to call before going to the clinics.

Mercy collected specimens to be tested from 4,729 people, including 802 in the past week, from March 20 through Thursday, according to Cook. People who suspect they have covid-19 must call Mercy's call center and be screened and make an appointment before going to Mercy's evaluation site in Bentonville.

Community Clinic, which has four coronavirus screening sites in Northwest Arkansas, collected specimens to be tested from 6,564 people, including 2,218 people in the past week, from March 30 through Thursday, according to Abbie Luzius, community development manager. Patients are encouraged, but not required, to call before coming to a clinic.

Coronavirus screening sites

• Washington County Health Unit: 3270 Wimberly Drive in Fayetteville. Patients should call (479) 521-8181 to make an appointment.

• Benton County Health Unit: 1200 W. Walnut St. Suite 2200 in Rogers. Patients should call (479) 986-1300 to make an appointment.

• Walmart/Quest testing site: 7-9 a.m. Thursdays and Fridays at Walmart Neighborhood Market, 1400 N. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville. Patients must schedule an appointment through Quest Diagnostic’s online portal, MyQuestCOVIDTest.com or MyQuest app.

• UAMS digital screening: www.uamshealth.com/healthnow

• UAMS hotline: (800) 632-4502

• Washington Regional hotline: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, (479) 463-2055

• Washington Regional Coronavirus Screening Center: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Washington Regional Urgent Care, 3 E. Appleby Road.

• Washington Regional Family Clinic drive-through screening clinic: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Friday, 146 Passion Play Road, Suite A in Eureka Springs

• Arkansas Children’s Hospital hotline for child health: (800) 743-3616

• Community Clinic Siloam Springs Medical: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 500 S. Mount Olive St., No. 200 in Siloam Springs

• Community Clinic Rogers Medical: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1233 W. Poplar St. in Rogers

• Community Clinic Fayetteville Medical: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 162 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite 13-14 in Fayetteville

• Community Clinic Springdale Medical and Pediatrics: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 614 E. Emma Ave., Suite 300 in Springdale

• Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas Family Medicine South: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 2523 E. Huntsville Road in Fayetteville

• Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas online screening: mana.md/covid-19-screening/

• Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas fever hotline: (479) 435-2500

• MedExpress Urgent Care: 8 a.m.-8 p.m., 1160 S. 40th St. in Springdale. Patients must call (479) 750-2971 to make an appointment.

• Northwest Medical Center: 601 S.W. Regional Airport Blvd. in Bentonville. Patients may call (479) 306-7507.

• Northwest Medical Center: 2158 Butterfield Coach Road, Suite 100 in Springdale. Patients may call (479) 306-7507.

• Mercy Coronavirus Evaluation Site: Mercy Convenient Care, 3101 S.E. 14th St. in Bentonville. Patients must call (479) 717-7585 beforehand to make an appointment to be screened.

• Veterans enrolled in Veterans Affairs health care may call (800) 691-8387.

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