Recognizing that many people are experiencing fatigue in respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby seeks to remind the community of the deadly and communicable nature of this coronavirus.
At the Sept. 28 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force, Shelby shared that Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, of the Arkansas Department of Health, recently spoke to an area Rotary Club and contrasted COVID-19 with the flu. She reported that COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Arkansans in the six months since the pandemic began, whereas the flu claimed a total of 128 lives in the state throughout all of 2019.
“This is a deadly disease and, as a community, we need to stick together and do what we need to do,” said Shelby, referring to the public health guidelines.
For the week of Sept. 20-27, there were four additional deaths reported in Garland County as a result of COVID-19, bringing the county’s cumulative death total from the pandemic to 52.
The pandemic fatigue is also being exhibited by families who are frustrated with policy at the hospitals in Hot Springs in which patients are allowed only one visitor at a time. This policy is in place to ensure not only the safety of the patients, health care workers and other employees, but also for the visitors. Both CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center reported a continuing ebb and flow of COVID patients, with numbers rising slightly in the past week from lower levels in the previous week.
Shelby reported there were 122 new cases reported this past week, which was the same number from the previous week. The total test count was again well above the county’s weekly average at 2,917, but for the second week it included routine bi-weekly testing now taking place in long-term care facilities. Active cases at the time of the meeting were up to 159 from the same time the previous week, when it was at 136.
The distribution in the county showed that the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village dropped one to three cases; Mountain Pine went from one to five cases; Royal went from five to 12 cases; and Pearcy rose from two to six cases.
Cases among those with Spanish surnames rose to 9.3% of the county’s total, which is up from 4.8% two weeks ago. The 65-and-older age group rose from 15.8% to 20%; the 6-17 age group went from 25 to 43 cases; and the 0-17 group now accounts for 22% of the county’s total.
The Garland County Health Unit has 40 remaining antigen rapid-response test kits from the state, 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 106 PCR and antigen tests last week. They are also now doing free walk-up flu shots, and last week they administered 35 flu vaccinations. 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 and Wednesday – Friday. Tuesday hours are now 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Call Center at 501-760-4307 has recently had out-of-town callers asking about testing locations. Other callers asked about information regarding individual cases, which is not available at the call center.
A reminder was shared that contact tracing calls may come from an unknown and out-of-state phone number.
Steve Arrison of Visit Hot Springs said that leisure tourism has been very strong on weekends with the tourism season running later in the year than usual, possibly due to families learning and working from home because of the pandemic.
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.