At the virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force on Dec. 28, representatives from CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center shared their anxiousness about a likely increase in cases in the weeks following the Christmas holiday. They said they continue to experience high numbers of COVID-19 patients, reaching the highest numbers so far during the pandemic this past week, Dec. 20-27.
One of the hospitals reported that nearly 50% of the current COVID patients require treatment in the intensive care unit. The other hospital said that some COVID patients are having to be held in the emergency department while waiting for bed placement.
CHI altered their visitation guidelines last week. For patients that qualify for visitors, one visitor is allowed daily from 1 – 6 p.m. NPMC visitation remains at one visitor per qualified patient between 5:30 – 8 p.m., and visitors should enter through the emergency department.
Multiple task force representatives expressed renewed concerns about COVID fatigue in the community, particularly as we enter a new year with optimism relating to the vaccine. Hot Springs Police Chief Chris Chapmond said he received a record number of calls relating to questions or non-adherence of COVID-19 guidelines and directives. “About every other phone call was some sort of complaint, either about masks or COVID fatigue or businesses,” he said.
Even though the phased vaccination plan has begun with some hospital, healthcare and first responder staff being inoculated and some area nursing homes scheduled for vaccinations this week, it is anticipated to take months for vaccines to be available for a majority of the population. Once an individual is vaccinated, health officials encourage continued adherence to virus preventative measures – wearing of a face mask, social distancing and washing of hands – because although the vaccine is effective at protecting from infection, it is yet to be determined if the vaccine inhibits the spread of the virus. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Vaccination Phased Plan is available online at https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-vaccination-plan.
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said that despite a shortened workweek and a slowdown in testing availability from the Christmas Eve and Christmas holidays, documented active cases in Garland County continued to climb last week to an all-time high of 608 at the time of the meeting, up from the previous week’s total of 572. The number of tests recorded was down from the previous week’s 3,337 at 3,025, and the positivity rate rose slightly from 13.2% to 13.5%. There were five deaths added.
Distribution across the county shows that Hot Springs Village continued to reach record levels for a second-straight week, rising from 35 to 41 active cases; Royal also reached an all-time high of 36 cases, up from 23; Pearcy is up from 20 to 24; Jessieville is up from 18 to 20; and Lonsdale dropped from 13 to 11.
Susan Lester, director of the Garland County Health Unit, said that although her staff was thankful for the Christmas break, they anticipated a busy return upon their return this week. “Sure enough, we had a lot of people out front this morning wanting to get COVID testing.” Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced at his weekly COVID update on Dec. 22 that rapid antigen tests would be available at health units for those who have traveled, and the health unit is providing them as their resources allow. The health unit provided COVID tests for a total of 100 individuals 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 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 health unit on a walk-in basis. The 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 Friday, Jan. 1, for New Year’s.
The new state health directive requiring approval from the Arkansas Department of Health for gatherings of 10 or more people (updated from 100 or more participants) will begin on Jan. 2. Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, said the Convention Center may have more cancelations and they are cutting back hours and staffing. He said that tourism continues to do very well, and there are quite a few people in town this week. Arrison and his team were credited for their efforts in maintaining the local economy. Sales tax collections for this year have been above the previous year, despite the pandemic and its economic repercussions.
The United Way of the Ouachitas continues to receive calls from individuals who are having difficulties paying their rent. There is 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.