Even though Garland County’s COVID-19 statistics remain on a plateau since the rise in cases ending around Nov. 15, the hospitals in Hot Springs are experiencing what they say are some of their highest numbers of the pandemic as they are treating patients from across Southwest Arkansas and getting calls for assistance from as far as Oklahoma.
At the Nov. 30 meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting, CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center both reported being very busy, and not just with COVID-19 patients. One hospital representative said as many as 50% of their COVID patients have been in critical care. They encouraged the public to remain vigilant in wearing face masks, socially distancing and washing hands to continue to try to flatten the curve, the goal of which since the start of the pandemic has been to allow healthcare facilities to be able to care for all COVID and non-COVID patients. Area hospital spokespersons said they serve as regional referral centers and are receiving increased calls from hospital across the region for available ICU beds.
“We do get a lot of transfers from other counties, and I know we are primarily reporting for Garland County, I just don’t want that to give everyone a false sense that things are better because the counties out there, especially in Southwestern Arkansas, must be a whole lot higher because we are seeing those patients,” said a hospital spokesperson.
National Park Medical Center is continuing the abbreviated in-patient visitation hours, from 5:30 – 8 p.m., and visitors should enter through the emergency department.
LifeNet and the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Call Center (501-760-4307) have also both been experiencing higher call volumes.
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said that even though we remain on a COVID statistical plateau, he is anxiously awaiting the possible aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday to see if numbers rise. For the week of Nov. 22 – 29, Shelby said there were 317 new cases reported, up from the previous week’s total of 282. There was an average of 45 cases per day, up from 40, and the positivity rate rose from 10.7% to 13.3%. There were 414 active cases at the time of the meeting, down from the previous week’s 448. There were three deaths reported, down considerably from the previous week’s total of 15, but Shelby attributed the decline to the holiday and what will probably be delayed reporting.
Cases in local nursing homes again declined significantly, according to Shelby and representatives from two nursing homes who attended this week’s virtual meeting. This decrease has helped stabilize the percentage of cases in the 65-and-older age group at 20.1% the county’s overall total, as well total of healthcare workers with the virus, which again fell from 27 to 20.
The 0-17 age group also stabilized at 55 cases and 13.7% of the county’s total, compared to last week’s numbers of 59 and 15%.
Distribution across the county had two areas with what seemed to be their highest numbers thus far: the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village was at 26 cases, up from 16, and Pearcy rose to 27, up from 20.
School district representatives echoed Shelby’s anxiousness regarding possible increasing numbers following last week’s holiday. As their contact tracing and current quarantine and isolation figures were being tallied upon their return on Monday, they remained hopeful they will be able to continue to keep their schools operational for the three weeks leading into the next holiday break.
“This is definitely going to be an important few weeks ahead,” said Shelby. “We have to keep doing what we have been doing in terms of masks, social distancing and hand washing. I really want to give a shout out to everyone who continues to participate (on the task force). We have been doing this for eight months, and everybody has been stepping up and I think we do have a lot to be thankful for in this community for people getting engaged and staying engaged. We have to have a strong push ahead, but I think as a community we can do that.”
County Judge Darryl Mahoney and City Manager Bill Burrough both mentioned the high number of visitors to downtown Hot Springs on Saturday, and the fact that most were wearing face masks. “I think many people are starting to realize how important masks are, although some are still wearing them inappropriately, such as under the nose,” said Burrough.
Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison dispelled rumors that the Convention Center has been tapped to be a temporary hospital.
Bo Robertson, of the Garland County Department of Emergency Management, shared that he continues to be involved in meetings regarding the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which is being facilitated by the state. The first distribution may occur before the end of the year, but it will most likely be limited to healthcare workers and first responders. There will be hurdles to the distribution, as two of the first vaccines expected for approval require storage in extremely cold temperatures.
The Garland County Health Unit collected a total of 93 COVID-19 specimen last week, a high number accounting for the holiday-shortened 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.