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Posted on: August 13, 2020

HS/GC COVID-19 Task Force: Garland County COVID trend continues in right direction

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At the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force virtual meeting on August 10, Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said that the COVID-19 numbers from the week of August 2-9 look better, and that he is pleased with the trend.

There were 171 confirmed positive test results reported in Garland County last week, compared to 185 from the previous week and the peak of 210 from the week ending on July 26. There were a total number of 1,444 test results received last week from the county, and the positive rate of infection in the county dropped from the previous week’s 12.7% to 11.8%. Shelby said the number of active cases significantly dropped from 240 last week to 209, at the time of the meeting.

The total number of individuals in the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) database for the county, combining confirmed active cases and those suspected of exposure, was 227 at the time of the meeting, down from last week’s 237. County-wide distribution remains similar to recent weeks, but there was an increase in individuals at Hot Springs Village (Garland County) on the list from two to seven, with only two in the 65-and-older age group.

Those with Spanish surnames remained at 32 in the ADH database for Garland County. Gary Troutman, president and CEO of the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, welcomed Marcella Torres and Kim Donaldson, both of CHI St. Vincent, as new representatives to the task force to offer insight into outreach efforts for the local Hispanic community.

There were seven new COVID deaths reported in the county, for a total 14 at the time of the meeting. However, Shelby said there have been significant delays from the date of death to the time that they are included in the COVID-19 database, in some cases up to two or three months.

Several members of the task force reported having seen more residents and visitors wearing face masks, whether it be while walking downtown, while attending a recent high school graduation or while at a big-box store.

“I think we’re seeing positives in terms of people wearing masks more, but we really need to keep pushing the importance of it because wearing masks is the right thing to do, wearing masks is the law,” said Shelby.

Several local anecdotes were also shared similar to the one provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in which two hair stylists who had been exposed to COVID-19 had provided services for 130 clients before the stylists tested positive for the virus. Because they were insistent on wearing face masks and following the other safety guidelines, none of the 130 clientele contracted COVID-19.

The task force also discussed a concern regarding some area employees being required to have a negative COVID-19 test to return to work after they complete their isolation/quarantine period. The CDC updated information regarding return to work guidelines on July 22, and they recommend a symptom-based strategy. Requiring employees to provide a negative COVID-19 test before returning to the workplace is not recommended by the CDC because recovered patients can continue to have the virus detected in the upper respiratory system for up to 12 weeks, but at levels too low for transmission, according to multiple cited studies. The current recommendation for the symptom-based approach is for isolation of at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and at least 24 hours since the last fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications, as well as an improvement of symptoms. For those who were asymptomatic throughout their infection may return to work at least 10 days after their positive test. For those with severe to critical illness, or who are severely immunocompromised, the CDC recommends at least 20 days since first symptoms appeared, at least 24 hours since last fever and symptoms have improved. For the latest recommendations from the CDC, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

National Park Medical Center (NPMC) and CHI St. Vincent (CHI) representatives shared that both hospitals experienced a decline in COVID-19 patient numbers over the past week.

School district superintendents from across the county who joined the task force last week were not able to participate in this week’s meeting as they each had back-to-school meetings or responsibilities.

The Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Call Center at 501-760-4307 continues to have callers requesting locations for the rapid antigen COVID-19 testing, yet supplies for these tests are still having to be rationed to priority cases.

The Garland County Health Unit provided the new call center number for statewide questions related to the re-opening of public schools: 1-833-504-0155.

The United Way of the Ouachitas (UWO) is still being inundated with applications for assistance from individuals and families who have suffered loss of employment as a result of COVID-19. The application is online at https://www.unitedwayouachitas.org/covid-19-application.

Sarah Fowler, UWO executive director, said that around $45,000 has already been distributed, yet there is a continued need for those who are striving to do their best. Many are losing the additional Pandemic Unemployment Insurance of $600 a week, for those who were even able to draw unemployment, she said. The UWO has helped many who were self-employed and not able to receive any state or federal assistance.

“We appreciate the things the United Way does for the community,” said Hot Springs Fire Chief Ed Davis, who coordinates the task force meetings. “The United Way has been there through this whole process helping people, so open your wallet to them this if you can during their fall fundraising.”

To donate to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, visit www.bit.ly/UWO-COVID, call 501-623-2505 or send a check by mail at 233 Hobson Avenue, Hot Springs, AR 71913.

Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, said that we are getting a lot of visitors, including those from states and countries that we usually do not see. He added that everything is really picking up and they have had no issues with masks at the Convention Center.

Several task force representatives also applauded the efforts of Arrison and Troutman.

“I want to give kudos to Gary and Steve both. They’ve really come through for our community in this time of need,” said Garland County Judge Darryl Mahoney. “Steve provided a lot of masks for all of us early on in this pandemic and he has continued to be a huge community player while he has suffered a tremendous loss himself. In the past few weeks, Gary has really reached out and helped us with the Hispanic community and others, I’m sure. They are true assets for Garland County and Hot Springs and I want to recognize them for their efforts.”

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