Cold temperatures most likely led to a lower number of COVID-19 testing being done the week of Feb. 8-14, and the continued effects of inclement weather will likely skew the pandemic outlook for weeks ahead, according to Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby at the Feb. 15 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force.
Despite last week’s lower testing total of 2,768, the rate of positive test results dropped by 2%, from 13.1% to 11.1%. The number of active cases at the time of the meeting was 515, a decline of 64 over the same time last week. The number of new cases reported last week was 308, or an average of 44 per day, which Shelby said is the lowest total recorded in the county since November.
There were 11 COVID-related deaths last week in Garland County.
There were no major changes in the distribution in the county, with an uptick of two in Hot Springs Village, from 47 to 49 active cases at the time of the meeting; Royal decreased by five, from 29 to 24; and Pearcy increased by two, from 14 to 16.
There were multiple vaccination clinics scheduled for this week, but due to the weather they are being rescheduled for next week. As such, there is a clinic scheduled every day next week, each with planned inoculation totals from between 1,000-1,500, with a mix of first and second doses. According to Cody Turner, pharmacist at Village Health Mart East Gate Pharmacy who is helping coordinate and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, Garland County will be transitioning from primarily receiving the Pfizer vaccine to the Moderna vaccine, meaning it will be a 28-day cycle between the two doses compared to the current 21-day cycle.
Shelby said that even if people’s second vaccination dose gets delayed due to winter weather postponement of a vaccination clinic, they should not be concerned as the second dose can be pushed back six weeks, if needed. Also, the first vaccine dose alone does offer between 50-60% protection from the coronavirus.
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.
Not all area school administrators were able to attend this week’s meetings, but those who gave reports shared declining numbers of active cases and those requiring quarantine.
CHI St. Vincent shared that they continue to remain steady in terms of COVID-19 patients, but that higher-acuity patients, or those in need of a ventilator, has gone down. National Park Medical Center said they have had a decrease in COVID-19 patients.
The Garland County Health Unit provided COVID-19 tests for 80 individuals last week. Last Thursday and Friday, due to frigid temperatures, the health unit had to scale back testing to the rapid-response antigen tests of those who are symptomatic. This will continue until conditions improve. 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, weather permitting, from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday – Friday, and from 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
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.