Over the past week, Garland County’s COVID-19 statistics plateaued from the previous weeks’ upward trajectory, but health officials continue to urge area residents to be vigilant this Thanksgiving holiday.
Even though case numbers have stabilized, the county’s active case count remains at a near-record high of 448, only slightly up from last week’s 445, but just one shy of the record of 449 set on Nov. 13.
“We have seen bumps up in COVID cases after holidays this year, and we’ve gone on plateaus afterward. We just have to hope and pray that we do not have bumps after Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby. “Everyone should be careful with the number of people they are around this holiday. The recommendation is 10 or less for gatherings, outdoors as much as possible. If you cannot be outdoors, open your windows and turn your heat on so that you’ve got some air circulation. Simple stuff, but it’s real important as we move forward with this.”
He shared some positive aspects from the county statistics for the past week of Nov. 15-22 at the Nov. 23 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force. The number of new cases was 282, down from the previous week’s high of 372 new cases. The average number of new cases per day was 40, compared to past weeks’ totals of 53, 31 and 25. The number of COVID-19 tests rose a little, bringing the county’s positivity rate down to 10.7%, compared to last week’s high of 16.1%, but above the previous week’s 10.2%.
Cases in local nursing homes has declined significantly, according to Shelby and representatives from two nursing homes who attended this week’s virtual meeting. This decrease has also brought the rate of cases among the 65-and-older age group down to 19.6% of the county’s overall total, which Shelby said is the lowest this group has been in a long time, adding that he hopes this will help the county’s death rate decline.
There were 15 new deaths recorded last week, bringing the county’s cumulative death total to 101 at the time of the meeting. The county has been averaging 9.5 deaths per week in recent weeks.
The number of infected healthcare workers has gone down significantly, which Shelby also attributed to the nursing home outbreaks coming under control. The total number of healthcare workers with COVID-19 at the time of the meeting was 27, compared to last week’s 40, and previous weeks’ totals of 61 and 67.
Shelby noticed a definite upward trend in the 0-17 age group, going from 18 two weeks ago, to 47 and then 59 this past week. “This is by far the highest number in this group that we have seen,” said Shelby.
Distribution across the county had minor changes from last week, with the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village declining from 23 cases to 16 and Pearcy rising to 20 from 17 cases.
Along with mentions of cautiousness in terms of the upcoming holiday, task force representatives also encouraged increased vigilance at workplace environments, including having employees wear masks more in office settings and socially distance during break times.
City Manager Bill Burrough said the city will likely resume alternate work schedules, as was done in April, in response to increasing cases and quarantined staff members and to ensure all of the city’s essential services continue uninterrupted. Among the departments affected by an increase in quarantine requirements this past week is the police department, and Chief Chris Chapmond said they have temporarily closed the lobby of the police station.
CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs both reported their coronavirus patient counts either have continued to stay consistent with recent weeks’ increases, or have continued to rise. National Park Medical Center has updated their visitation policy with non-ICU patient units having visitation from 5:30 – 8 p.m. daily. Their ICU remains closed to visitors, as well as their emergency department.
The Garland County Health Unit collected a total of 213 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. The health unit has increased the number of reserved parking places for COVID testing due to increasing demand. 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. 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 health unit is hosting a COVID-19 testing event on Dec. 15 from 4 – 7 p.m. in their parking lot. Individuals participating in this event will remain in their vehicles and follow directions to be provided by Arkansas Department of Health staff the day of testing.
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.