Gov. Asa Hutchinson changed the statewide COVID-19 directives to guidelines on Feb. 26, yet he and Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said it is essential that individual behaviors regarding wearing masks, socially distancing and washing hands continue. Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby echoed this message at the March 1 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting.
“It is really important for us to recognize there’s still virus here. I would hate for us to have a spike, or even a plateau, in new cases,” said Shelby. “It is not the time to declare this pandemic over. The guidelines still exist and we still need to do the things to prevent further spread.”
School superintendents said that their COVID protocols, based on their previously approved learning plans, will continue and their day-to-day operations are not changing. Safety continues to be their top priority. Judge Darryl Mahoney said he does not expect any of the county office protocols to be loosened until there are drastic declines in COVID cases. National Park Medical Center’s (NPMC) COVID visitation policy remains intact, and CHI St. Vincent – Hot Springs (CHI) has only updated their policy to allow a patient to have more than one visitor, but still only one visitor at a time.
Testing for those who are symptomatic or may have been exposed to the virus continues to be vital in controlling the spread, as well as the quarantine and isolation measures.
In introducing the Garland County COVID statistic update for the week of Feb. 21-28, Shelby said the “numbers look much better and are going in the right direction.” There were 252 new cases reported, up from the previous week’s total of 168, which was low due to inclement weather, but lower than the previous 14 weeks. The number of active cases at the time of the meeting was 199, dropping below 200 for the first time since October.
The Arkansas Department of Health did a data cleanup on Feb. 28, so testing total of 9,162 included reports that occurred prior to Feb. 14. There were two COVID deaths added during the week, but two deaths were removed during the data cleanup, so the net gain for the week was zero. The cumulative total of COVID-related deaths in Garland County remained at 231.
Distribution in the county saw all areas with either declining or consistent active case numbers, with Hot Springs Village dropping from 28 to 10 and Royal from 18 to 12.
Similar to the declining community cases, all area school superintendents reported their active cases and quarantine/isolation numbers being down. NPMC and CHI representatives also reported slight declines in COVID patients.
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 65 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.
The Garland County Health Unit continues to provide COVID-19 tests, and last week the unit tested 43 individuals. 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.