Following a downward trend for COVID-19 cases in Garland County, the week of Oct. 11 – 18 saw a higher number of new cases, active cases and deaths, while there was a decrease in the number of tests performed.
“Unfortunately, last week was not a very good week,” said Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby at the Oct. 19 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force. “We all need to remember that we are still in the middle of this, and we have to keep pushing forward and recognize we are dealing with a deadly disease. So far, 62 of our fellow Garland County residents have died that probably would not have died otherwise.”
Shelby also shared updated COVID-19 statistics for Garland County. For the week of Oct. 11 – 18, there were 145 new cases reported with an average of 20.7 new cases per day, up from the two previous weeks’ averages of 17.4 and 10.3. The total test count was 2,176, which included routine weekly testing taking place in long-term care facilities. The positivity rate for the week was 6.7%, which is up from recent weeks but still lower than other populated counties in Arkansas, according to Shelby. Active cases at the time of the meeting were at 164, an increase of 52 from the same time the previous week when it was at 112.
The distribution in the county showed that the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village increased from two to seven cases; Pearcy is at six cases; and Mountain Pine currently has five cases.
Cases among those with Spanish surnames is down to six cases, or just 3% of the county’s total case count. The 65-and-older age group currently is up to 65 cases, or 33% of the county’s total, which is much higher than the state average of 20%, said Shelby. The 0-17 group went down again this week to 10% of the county’s total, which Shelby said reflects well on the efforts being taken by the school districts. Shelby added that there are at least two nursing homes with 10 or more new cases reported in the past week. The trend of the older age group seeing more cases is also likely contributing to the additional deaths in the county, which saw an increase of eight in the past week making it one of the highest COVID-19 fatality weeks for Garland County since the beginning of the pandemic.
Reports from school district representatives revealed continued challenges in communicating to the public the importance and details of the isolation and quarantine guidelines. Hospitals are reporting increases in COVID-19 patients, as well as flu patients being admitted. The isolation and quarantine measures, along with the other pandemic public health guidelines, are in place to flatten the curve of the rate of infection as to not overwhelm the healthcare system from this highly contagious coronavirus.
Quarantine means staying at home and away from others after an individual has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. For those who have been a close contact to a person with COVID-19 (being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes), a quarantine of 14 days from the time of exposure is required. This is essential, even if the close contact individual does not feel sick and even if they receive a negative test for COVID-19. In fact, in most situations in which the close contact is not experiencing symptoms, Shelby and other members of the task force recommend individuals abstain from getting tested for COVID-19. A negative result may occur if the possible infection in the individual has not reached detectible levels for the test, and thus may give a false sense of confidence to return to normal activities.
Isolation is for people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Isolation means the individual stays home and away from others while they are infectious. In general, isolation lasts for a minimum of 10 days starting on the day the symptoms first appeared. Isolation is complete after the 10-day period as long as the positive person is without a fever (less than 100.4) without the use of a fever-reducing medication. Other symptoms, such as cough or shortness of breath, must also be improving. For those not experiencing symptoms, an isolation period of 10 days from the date of the positive COVID-19 test is required. Longer isolation periods may be required for those with more severe cases or those who have weakened immune systems.
The Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Call Center at 501-760-4307 echoed the challenges of misunderstanding in the public regarding isolation and quarantine.
The Garland County Health Unit collected 119 COVID-19 test samples last week. They also administered 57 flu shots at the clinic, along with 638 at area schools. There is still an ample supply of COVID-19 antigen tests for students, teachers and school staff who are exhibiting symptoms. To decrease possible wait times, it is recommended to call ahead to schedule COVID-19 testing at 501-624-3394. The Garland County Health Unit is located at 1425 Malvern Avenue and is open from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday – Friday. Tuesday hours are 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The United Way of the Ouachitas (UWO) 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.