As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world and the number of those infected continues to rise, testing kits are vital.


Dr. Lee Johnson, director of Fort Smith EMS and a state representative for Greenwood, explained how testing is done. Essentially, a swab is inserted into the nose of the person being tested and held there. This is the same as being tested for the flu. Getting tested is not a comfortable situation as the six inch long cotton swab is pushed through the nasal cavity in the area between the nose and mouth. It is then held for 15 seconds and then the swab is rotated several times to ensure a good sample.


After a sample is collected it is then placed in a transport media that will be sent to a testing lab. The transport media contains a chemical that allows the sample of the virus to stay safe for future testing.


Johnson says that they send tests to different places depending on how quickly they need a prognosis. For a quicker turnaround they will send that transport media to an instate testing facility. Hospitalized patients and healthcare workers get first priority when it comes to testing. Getting a result from in-state facilities like the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences or Baptist Health can take three to six hours in some cases, but when lower priority tests are sent out of state to private labs, it can take upwards of 24 to 48 hours.


Dr. Jennifer Hunt of UAMS says that when they receive the tests they go into a machine that can test multiple samples at a time. The waste from these tests is handled the same way as any other hazardous waste as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that there is no evidence to suggest that it be handled differently. Hunt says that she may keep certain samples for future testing.


With the large influx of tests being sent around the country, the largest problem being faced by testing centers is the shortage of key chemicals that allow for the tests. The lack of chemicals slows down the rate at which these samples can be processed. Tests are not only used for diagnosing, but also aid in the record of statistics in the state. This allows for future planning on the amount of testing kits that should be manufactured as well the workload required to handle multiple tests in the event of a chemical shortage.


There are currently five places to get tested in Fort Smith. This includes Baptist Health on Rogers, Ben Geren Safe Shelter on Zero Street, RVPCS Northside and Eastside Clinic, as well as Northside Clinic at Sixth Street.


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