A lack of information getting to the public about the open eligibility and the wide availability and critical importance of COVID-19 vaccines continues to be a concern for the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force, which was a primary topic of discussion at their virtual meeting on April 12.
A combination of vaccine hesitancy and ignorance about the eligibility in Arkansas for anyone age 16 and older to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at no out-of-pocket cost, as well as awareness of the many area locations offering vaccine appointments, has led to Garland County having an overflow of available vaccine doses in storage, according to Cody Turner, pharmacist at Village Health Mart East Gate Pharmacy who is helping coordinate and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
There are COVID-19 vaccination clinics every Tuesday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Ouachita Professional Building (Fordyce Room), 1900 Malvern Avenue. To schedule an appointment, visit https://www.eastgatepharmacy.com/covid-19-vaccine-scheduler.
CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs is offering COVID vaccinations five days a week at three different Hot Springs clinic locations. Patients can visit www.chistvincent.com/getmyshot or call 501-622-6556 to begin the scheduling process.
Other vaccination locations include the following:
School districts across the county are also coordinating with East Gate Pharmacy to host vaccination clinics for interested parents and high school students age 16 and older.
For additional vaccination information, visit www.cityhs.net/vaccine.
“The desire to get the vaccine is waning rapidly,” said Garland County Judge Darryl Mahoney. “We continue to push the information out, and we have the whole staff here to show there have been no side effects for anyone here.”
Only 49% of Garland County residents age 65 and over have been fully vaccinated, and approximately 20% of the entire population in the county has been fully vaccinated, according to Turner. He said those figures will rise as a backlog of reporting is caught up, with the whole population percentage possibly being up to 24-25%. Even so, Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said the county still has a ways to go in terms of vaccinations before reaching herd immunity, if herd immunity is a realistic possibility given our current trends.
City Manager Bill Burrough shared that it has been reported that Arkansas leads all other states with the lowest number of new cases per capita, but that several northern states are experiencing a “huge fourth wave.” He said he is concerned because in looking at the last three COVID waves, “it trended that way in starting in other states” before coming into Arkansas.
“I think the key is vaccinations,” said Burrough. “You’re going to get one of two things: you’re either going to get the vaccine or you’re going to get COVID. Another thing we have to be careful about is that I don’t think people are going to be as empathetic as they have been in the past when people have the opportunity to get the vaccine and choose not to.”
In his COVID statistic update for the week of April 4 – 11, Shelby shared that Garland County seems to be “at a turning point in terms of the numbers,” and he is hopeful “it’s a blip and not a trend.”
There were 21 new cases reported last week, compared to the previous week’s 20 cases, but the number of test results for the county was well below the previous week’s 1,551 at 891. He attributed the drop in testing numbers to the fact that nursing homes have scaled back their routine testing as their case numbers have declined, along with a decline in community testing. The rate of positivity went from 1.3% to 2.2%, which is the first increase in this statistic in several weeks. The number of active cases at the time of the meeting was 32, up from 23 at the same time the previous week. There were no COVID-related death reported last week.
“We are going to have to continue to be vigilant and will have to continue to encourage people to wear masks,” said Shelby. “There is still virus in our community and we don’t need to let this get out of hand. We still have work to do, and we have shown that everyone working together can make a difference.”
At the time of the meeting, both CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center reported have no COVID-19 patients.
As was reported in last week’s task force meeting, again only one school district represented in the meeting reported a COVID case in the past week. All other districts again reported having zero cases and zero quarantines at the time of the meeting.
The Garland County Health Unit provided COVID-19 tests for six individuals last week. Those wishing to be tested are advised to park their vehicle in a parking space reserved by a numbered cone, stay inside their vehicle and call 501-624-3394 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 Arkansas Department of Health is providing vaccine pop-up clinics across the state. For more information and to schedule an appointment at such a clinic, call 1-800-985-6030. 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.