Although the week of Jan. 31 – Feb. 7 saw a 64% increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Garland County from the previous week, a higher number of test results kept the positivity rate steady and the number of active cases fell by 10.
“I am hopeful our increased numbers is a one-time blip,” said Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby at the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Monday, Feb. 8. “It follows a pattern we have seen because this was about two weeks after the Martin Luther King holiday, and the trend has been that every time we have a three-day weekend, people get together and pass the virus around. It is important to remember the social distancing and masks because a lot of the spread is in small groups that are getting together when people have free time. The virus is still here and very active in our community.”
Shelby’s COVID statistic update for last week included 628 new Garland County cases reported, up from the previous week’s 383. The average cases per day rose from 54.7 the previous week to 89.7 last week. There were 4,778 tests recorded, which is well up from 2,944 the previous week. The positivity rate was 13.1%, virtually the same as the previous week’s 13%. The county’s active cases dropped from 589 to 579 at the time of this Monday’s meeting.
For the first time since mid-December, the county recorded less than a double-digit death total with eight COVID-related deaths last week.
Distribution in the county also saw increases in Hot Springs Village, with a rise from 39 to 47 active cases at the time of the meeting; Royal increased by four, from 25 to 29; and Mountain Pine by three, from five to eight.
This week’s vaccination efforts in the county are primarily focusing on administering second doses to senior citizens (ages 70 and above) and those in the education sector. Local and statewide distribution of COVID vaccines continues to be limited by available doses. Several task force representatives shared positive feedback regarding the collaboration and execution of the first vaccination clinic at the fairgrounds, held on Feb. 2. They are confident the same model will be effective moving forward, even as increased dose supplies allow for much larger inoculation clinics.
The statewide vaccine distribution continues with Phase 1-A groups – healthcare, long-term care facilities and first responders – and the start of Phase 1-B – education workers and those 70 and older. For links to register for COVID-19 vaccination waiting lists and for vaccine updates in Garland County, visit www.cityhs.net/vaccine. For statewide vaccine updates, visit https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-vaccination-plan. As the vaccination distribution progresses, it is important to remember that the virus mitigation efforts of wearing a face mask, socially distancing and washing of hands needs to continue.
Two representatives from area nursing home facilities reported high vaccination participation among their staff, with staff vaccination rates of 100% and 87%, respectively. One reported closing down their COVID unit recently, while the other currently has two patients that were transferred from the hospital.
School administrators reported varying numbers of active cases and quarantine needs among area students, teachers and staff. They continue their contact tracing the mitigation efforts, which combined have allowed them to continue to support both on-campus and virtual learning options this school year, despite the pandemic. The 100 Days of School celebrations were met this year with many positive emotions. “If you would have told me in August that we would have been able to successfully have 100 days of school, I wouldn’t have believed you. Very pleased with how it has gone, and very thankful to our staff and our administration, all the way to our bus drivers, custodians, everyone, and their response to the pandemic. I credit this task force, too, and am very thankful for the support we have received through this group,” said Jessieville Superintendent Melissa Speers.
National Park Medical Center reported that their COVID numbers continue to hold about the same. CHI St. Vincent shared that they are remaining steady, as well, but at a lower level than what was experienced through December and mid-January.
The Garland County Health Unit provided COVID-19 tests for 134 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. The local health units do not currently have the COVID vaccine available, but are still providing the 2020 flu vaccination on a walk-in basis to those who would like to receive it. 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 United Way of the Ouachitas continues to have 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.