“The virus has continued to spread throughout our community, our county, with no particular source; it’s everywhere,” said Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby at the Nov. 16 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force.
Shelby provided updated statics for the area for the week from Nov. 8 – 15, prefacing the new numbers by saying records were set this past week in nearly every category.
There was a record high of 372 new positive cases, or an average of 53 per day, up from last week’s 218 total and 31 per day. The positivity rate of 16.1% rose well above the previous high of around 11%. Active cases went up to 445, up from last week’s 300. There were eight new deaths, and Shelby anticipates the county will continue to see more succumb to this disease.
“This is a deadly disease with an average one person dying from it in Garland County each day over the past few weeks. If there was one person dying each day from a car wreck or a homicide or a suicide, people would not say, ‘This is just a part of life;’ they would say, ‘This is something we really need to do something about,’ said Shelby. He encouraged everyone to think about the frontline healthcare workers and first responders who are fighting COVID-19 every day, facing potential harms to themselves, and for us all “to keep working with what we are doing, and do it better” as there are “tough roads ahead.”
Shelby said that distribution across the county is widespread. The Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village rose from 16 cases to 23, as of Nov. 16; Royal went from six to 13; Pearcy went from four to 17 cases; Mountain Pine doubled from six to 12; and Bonnerdale went from one to six cases.
A positive note was that the three area nursing homes hardest hit recently by COVID-19 continued to see their cases drop over the past week. This decline has also contributed to the number of healthcare workers with active infections decreasing from 61 last week to 40. Cases among those with Spanish surnames went from seven cases to 17, but the percentage of the total number of cases only increased slightly from 2.8% to 4%. The 0-17 group jumped over the past week to a total of 47 cases from 18 at the same time last week.
Many representatives on the task force mentioned having noticed continued signs of “COVID fatigue” in the community, namely with more sightings of people not wearing masks or not following the social distancing guidelines. There were also concerns regarding the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Shelby said that he has heard from many people in the healthcare field that “if people follow normal traditions this Thanksgiving, there is going to be a tremendous potential for further spread.” The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement has provided a list of 10 suggestions for how to have a safe Thanksgiving, which is available at www.achi.net/givethanksnotcovid.
CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs both reported their coronavirus patient counts either have stayed consistent with recent weeks’ increases, or have continued to rise, as well as patients coming through the emergency department with other sicknesses.
School district representatives from across the county and National Park College are also experiencing higher quarantine numbers from the rise in community spread. They are asking parents and their school teachers and staff to remain vigilant with basketball season starting and the Thanksgiving break coming next week.
A representative from a local nursing home attended the meeting and echoed concerns about the upcoming holiday. The nursing home is encouraging staff members to refrain from visiting family members from outside their household this holiday season “because it could take one of our residents’ lives; a good outing with your friends could mean the last holiday that one of our residents has.” It was shared that the acuity of the recent COVID-19 cases has been “heartbreaking,” and they have experienced more hospitalizations since Oct. 6 than the total they had from that date back to Jan. 1.
The Garland County Health Unit collected 158 COVID-19 specimen last week. Symptomatic or direct contact individuals who wish to be tested are advised to call ahead to schedule COVID-19 testing at 501-624-3394. When arriving for an appointment for COVID-19 testing, individuals should park their vehicle in a parking space reserved by a numbered cone, stay inside their vehicle and call to inform the representatives which number is indicated on the cone. Once tested, individuals are reminded to follow the Arkansas Department of Health guidelines regarding quarantine. Test result times vary. Flu shots are provided by the Garland County Health Unit on a walk-in basis. Last week, 15 walk-in flu shots were provided, in addition to regular patient flu shots. 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 has an application for COVID-19 assistance for area families and individuals affected by the pandemic 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.