‘They’re absolutely right.’ Governor responds to Washington Regional statement on reason for COVID-19 spike


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A Wednesday press release by Washington Regional’s chief operating officer coincided with a claim made by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) earlier in the day. Though the two arguments were opposed, both men expressed appreciation for the other in clarifying stances Thursday.

“These are actions we’ve been looking to do for some time, as the surge has gotten here in the last 10 days to two weeks,” said Birch Wright, Washington Regional’s COO.

Wednesday’s Washington Regional press release was sent out a few hours after Hutchinson said testing was to blame for the ongoing spike in cases across Arkansas, particularly in the Northwest region of the state.

“There’s been more testing in all of our states including Arkansas, and therefore we have an increase in the number of cases,” Hutchinson said Wednesday.

Wright’s statements took a different turn, placing the blame on more cases simply cropping up throughout the area.

“It is important for our community to understand that we are not seeing more hospitalizations simply because more testing is being done,” Wright wrote Wednesday. “We are seeing more hospitalizations because more people in our area are being infected with
the virus.”

The piece also documented the immense increase in COVID-related statistics at Washington Regional.

“Over the past week, Washington Regional has seen a 170% increase in the number of COVID-19 tests performed at its screening clinics, a 156% increase in calls to the Washington Regional COVID-19 Hotline and a 350% increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” Wright wrote.

On Thursday, Wright said the letter wasn’t timed up with the governor’s news conference. It was first sent out to employees, he said.

“This was planned prior to anything the governor was gonna release or anything else, and the timing just happened to be the same day,” Wright said. “We try to be in front of it. We try to communicate.”

Though the statement opposed what the governor said earlier, Wright said the claims in the letter still stand.

“It’s a much higher level of acuity of patients coming here that’s sick who probably should’ve been here previously, but they heard, ‘don’t come to the hospital.,'” Wright said.

Hutchinson said he read the press release and agreed with its sentiments.

“They’re absolutely right,” Hutchinson said. “Anytime you see an increase in hospitalization, that’s not simply the fact that we have more cases. It’s the fact that more people are getting sick from COVID-19 and need hospitalization.”

The letter was an “exclamation point” that should remind Arkansans of the virus’ seriousness, Hutchinson said, though he reiterated that it won’t change plans to move into Phase II in restriction rollbacks.

“This has serious consequences,” Hutchinson said. “We have to take it seriously and follow these public health guidelines.”

Hutchinson said Northwest Arkansas hospitals can handle the influx of more cases if the spike continues, and Wright agreed. He said Washington Regional has “ample” space to deal with such a situation.

“We have plenty of beds at Washington Regional,” Wright said. “We have plenty of ICU beds at Washington Regional, and we expanded to another unit truly to help with staffing.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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