As the active cases in Garland County continue to rise, the beginning of the phased distribution of COVID-19 vaccines was a primary topic of discussion at the Dec. 21 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force.
CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs (CHI) and National Park Medical Center (NPMC) both received initial shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (975 doses to CHI and 320 to NPMC) from the state and began inoculating healthcare workers. According to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Vaccination Phased Plan, available at https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-vaccination-plan, healthcare providers, first responders and long-term care residents make up Phase 1-A of the plan. Phase 1-B will be essential workers, and they will be vaccinated through community pharmacies and medical clinics that have agreed to be providers. Phase 1-C will included persons at increased risk for severe disease, including adults of any age with chronic health conditions and adults 65 years and older, who will also be vaccinated from the aforementioned pharmacies and medical clinics. Local task force representatives have not been given a timeline for when vaccine doses will be available for these or future phases, nor have they been given further details about how it will be determined who will qualify for Phase 1-C. As vaccine updates are provided to the Garland County Health Unit, they will be distributed to the local media and on official city/county social media outlets.
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said, “The vaccine is an exciting advancement in how we are going to address the pandemic.” He anticipates the Moderna vaccine to arrive this week in the state, as well, which does not require transport temperatures as low as the Pfizer vaccine and is shipped in quantities of 100, which should improve distribution throughout the state.
“One of the real issues that we will be having, and the health department is addressing it in different ways, is to educate people about the vaccine, how important and safe it is. There are a lot of people concerned about potential side effects, but it has been studied well and we need to make sure people understand how important it is to ending the pandemic,” said Shelby.
Other task force representatives recommended a three-part social media video series by Dr. Shawn Purifoy, of Malvern, in which he explains how the vaccine was developed, how it works and why it is important. The videos are available on Facebook at the following web addresses:
Shelby shared COVID-19 statistics for the week of Dec. 13 – 20 in Garland County. There were 439 new cases during the week, down slightly from the previous week’s record-setting number of 449. There were 3,337 test results received during the week, which is the highest weekly tally since mid-October, and the positivity rate dropped from the record-high 16.1% the previous week to 13.2%. Active cases continued to climb to another record high of 577. There were seven deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Distribution across the county shows that Hot Springs Village rose to a record high of 35 active cases; Lonsdale dropped from 24 to 13 cases; and Royal fell from 23 to 12 cases. There are 119 cases in the 65-and-older age group, or 20.8% of Garland County’s cases, down from 121 cases/23.5% from the previous week. The 0-17 age group also dropped slightly from the previous week’s 75 cases/14.6% to 69 cases/12% last week. For a third consecutive week, the number of healthcare workers with COVID-19 increased, with the current total at 53.
Shelby and representatives from area school districts expressed concern over another post-holiday surge in cases if residents do not follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ADH regarding limiting exposure to anyone outside the nuclear family during this Christmas and New Year’s holiday.
CHI and NPMC continue to have a significant amount of COVID-19 patients. Both hospitals have began administering monoclonal infusion treatments, but they are only available as prescribed from a patient’s primary care physician. It is an outpatient, hour-long infusion for high-risk COVID-19 patients early in their infection period.
The Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Call Center (501-760-4307) continues to field calls asking about COVID-19 testing options in the area. They plan to compile a list of testing locations that will be available over the Christmas holiday.
The Garland County Health Unit collected a total of 137 COVID-19 specimens last week. Those wishing to be tested are advised to call ahead to schedule an appointment 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. Flu shots are provided by the Garland County Health Unit on a walk-in basis. The health unit continues to supply area long-term care facilities with COVID-19 testing kits, which is done two times a week in the facilities while the county’s rate of infection remains above 10%. 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 will be closed on Dec. 24-25 for the Christmas holiday.
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.