Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby is optimistic about where Garland County stands in the pandemic as two weeks have passed since Labor Day, yet the COVID-19 numbers locally have not increased as they did following Memorial Day and Independence Day.
“The numbers look really good and we are starting to see a downward trend in some of the COVID categories,” said Shelby at the Sept. 21 weekly virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force. “I think we are in good shape, but we cannot let our guard down. We need to remember the importance of face masks, social distancing and the other state directives.”
For the week of Sept. 13 – 20, there were 122 new cases reported, down one from the previous week. Shelby reported that the total test count was well above what it has been over the past couple of months at 2,372. It was noted, however, that this total could have been inflated by the fact that long-term care facilities began bi-weekly testing last week of their staff; at least three facilities in the county also included residents in their routine testing. Active cases at the time of the meeting were down three from the previous week at 136.
The distribution in the county showed that the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village dropped back down to four active cases from last week’s total of eight. Cases among those with Spanish surnames went up four, from eight to 12, and the percentage of the county’s total went from 4.8% to 7.5%. The 65-and-older age group decreased from 23.6% of the county’s total cases to 15.8%, which is still above the state’s average for this age category. Shelby said the total of deaths this past week of 12, which is our county’s highest weekly total, was “disturbing, but not unexpected” due to the high number of cases among the older population. The 18-24 age group went down one from 20 to 19, and the 6-17 age group dropped 10 from 35 to 25 active cases.
The Garland County Health Unit received 60 additional antigen rapid-response test kits from the state late last week, which are to be reserved for symptomatic teachers, students and school staff. To decrease possible wait times, it is recommended to call ahead to schedule a time for testing at 501-624-3394. The health unit conducted a total of 81 PCR and antigen tests last week. They are also now doing free walk-up flu shots, as well as coordinating flu clinics with area school districts. The Garland County Health Unit is located at 1425 Malvern Avenue, and provides free drive-up COVID-19 testing from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday – Friday.
School district representatives continue to contact trace and quarantine, as needed, and shared that this new responsibility requires an investment of a lot of human resources. Overall, though, they consider the efforts to be successful in mitigating any spread within the schools thus far.
On statewide conference calls with K-12 and college/university peers, it was noted that Garland County’s task force is unique in its efforts to meet weekly and include a wide array of local representatives involved in the pandemic. Fire Chief Ed Davis, who coordinates the task force meetings, gave credit to City Manager Bill Burrough and Garland County Judge Darryl Mahoney for both coming up with the task force idea and putting into action by bringing the group together.
Burrough said he has been asked several times about the upcoming Halloween holiday, but Shelby said there has not yet been guidance released about this holiday from the Arkansas Department of Health.
The Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Call Center at 501-760-4307 continues to have a high volume of callers asking about antigen tests. There is still a short supply of antigen tests for this area, and those being administered by the Garland County Health Unit are reserved for the education sector. Callers are also asking about their COVID-19 test results, which are not available at the call center.
The United Way of the Ouachitas continues to give out food boxes and provide individual assistance to those in need. The application for COVID-19 assistance is online at https://www.unitedwayouachitas.org/covid-19-application. 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.