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National Guard team up with health care workers to give COVID tests

Across the northwest Arkansas area, the National Guard has been deployed to help administer tests and monitor traffic at testing sites as patient lines increase.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Long lines and wait times have become a problem for many COVID-19 test locations across the Northwest Arkansas area. 

In Bentonville, the Mercy clinic off Southeast 14th Street and I-49 saw lines nearly extending out of the parking lot for most of the day. Six members of the U.S. Army National Guard have been on-site in Bentonville since Monday, Jan 10. 

The guardsmans' main objective is to help monitor the flow of traffic, watch the capacity limits of the parking lot, gather patient information and even helping administer tests.

"We just needed more physical bodies because of the volume we’re seeing for testing," said David Fortner, the Vice President of Operations for Mercy of Northwest Arkansas. “Same time frame a couple of weeks ago, we were doing a little over a hundred tests per day.” 

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the Mercy clinic has tested over one thousand patients for coronavirus.

PCR tests are being done at this location, with patients receiving test results in 24 to 36 hours, and as the omicron variant continues to spread throughout Arkansas. The staff is working quickly to see as many patients as possible before stopping for the day at 4 p.m.

Wait times have been a major concern for staff and those waiting to be tested. Some patients turned away as the clock got closer to 4 p.m. leaving many to try again tomorrow. Fortner says the long lines and sending people home is to be expected, but to have patience.

“Please be patient. The lines are long and that’s just, again, sheer numbers that we’re seeing come through,” said Fortner. “Our home is that maybe this trails off in the next couple of weeks.”

For now, the National Guard is designated to stay for approximately the next 3 days. They say they are just happy to help, but the real heroes are the health care workers.

“We can feel, just you know, the love and the gratefulness they have and it’s a great environment,” said US Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Nicholas Reed. "When you get that (love and gratefulness) you do whatever they need.”

This isn’t the first time the National Guard has been deployed to help with testing since the pandemic began, but with the sharp rise in cases due to the omicron variant, it is more helpful to have as much help as possible. 

The highly transmissible variant is spreading faster than previous variants, so getting tested if you think you have coronavirus or came into contact with someone who tested positive is critical in helping reduce the spread.

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