As COVID-19 case numbers continue to decline at the local and state levels, members of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force urge continued vigilance in wearing masks, socially distancing and hand washing, as well as seeking out a COVID test if there are any signs of symptoms or possible exposure.
“We still do have enough virus in the county that we could see an uptick if we are not really vigilant,” said Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby at the March 8 virtual meeting of the task force. “We also need to emphasize the importance of testing, still. In order to get us down to zero, we need to be sure people are taking advantage of testing. Anyone who has any sign of any kind of symptoms, or has any inkling that they’ve been around somebody with COVID, they need to get tested so we can further identify any active cases we have.”
Shelby added that with the statewide numbers on the decline, the effectiveness of contact tracing has likely improved, and contact tracing efforts will be important moving forward.
For the first time since last October, the number of new cases last week (Feb. 28 – March 7) were less than 100, at 92, which is 160 fewer than the previous week’s total of 252. The average number of new cases per day of 13 was also significantly less than previous week totals of 36, 24, 44 and 90. The number of tests was also low, at 1,854, but Shelby was encouraged by the low rate of positivity, which was 5%. The number of active cases fell from the previous week’s 199 to 145, at the time of the meeting.
There were two COVID-19 deaths reported in Garland County last week. Shelby noted that it was just a month ago that each week added double-digit death totals.
Distribution of active cases across the county last week saw declines in every area: Hot Springs Village and Pearcy are at five cases; Jessieville, Lonsdale and Royal are at three cases; and Mountain Pine has two cases.
The case count declines in the community were mirrored in reports from hospital and school district representatives.
Both CHI St. Vincent (CHI) and National Park Medical Center (NPMC) have seen recent decreases in COVID patients, with CHI having fewer than 10 and NPMC fewer than five at the time of the meeting. With the declining case numbers, NPMC updated their visitation policy, effective March 9. With the exception of ICU and patients with COVID-19 symptoms, all patients are allowed one well visitor over the age of 16 at a time. The ICU will be open to one visitor over the age of 16 at a time between 4 and 8 p.m. CHI updated their visitor policy, effective February 22, to allow patients one visitor at a time over the age of 18. All visitors must be screened upon entrance and will be provided a mask per hospital policy. Visiting hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are still no visitors allowed for patients with active COVID.
All school district representatives in the meeting reported declining case numbers with a continuing focus on safety and preventative measures. “I feel like we’ve turned the corner, and we are going to keep up the precautions that have gotten us here,” said Lake Hamilton School District Superintendent Shawn Higginbotham.
Those involved with vaccine distribution in Garland County shared that there are now more vaccine doses available than individuals eligible to receive them, according the Arkansas Department of Health’s phased distribution plan. However, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced later in the day on Monday, March 8, that all of Phase 1-B would be eligible to receive a vaccine.
A drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic is scheduled for Tuesday, March 16, 2021, at the Garland County Fairgrounds for any individual included in Phase 1-B. Appointments for the clinic can be picked up on Thursday, March 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., inside the back entrance of the Convention Center, off Church Street.
Those in Phase 1-B include the following:
- 65 years and older
- Police, fire and other first responders
- Corrections employees
- Food and agriculture
- Individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities
- Essential government
- Grocery store/meal delivery
- Public transit
- Houses of worship
- Private and personal care
For more information about COVID-19 vaccinations in Garland County and Arkansas, visit www.cityhs.net/vaccine. For statewide vaccine updates, visit https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-vaccination-plan.
The Garland County Health Unit provided COVID-19 tests for 41 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, 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 (UWO) continues to provide free tax preparation. According to Sarah Fowler, UWO executive director, they are seeing a lot of individuals that have not received any or all of their previous stimulus money distributions. When they file a tax return, their stimulus money is then sent to them. “Even if an individual is just drawing social security, we can go ahead and file a return for them and that will automatically generate that stimulus money,” said Fowler. The UWO 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.