Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby, citing a concerning trend in the county’s COVID-19 statistics, hopes creative efforts to increase public knowledge of the importance of vaccinations will lead to a greater percentage of the county becoming inoculated.
“The numbers really don’t look very good, and our trending looks really bad,” said Shelby at the May 3 virtual meeting of Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force. “This is not going to get any better until we get a higher number of people vaccinated.”
Shelby echoed Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s recent request to business owners to take a lead role in educating their employees of the benefits of taking a COVID vaccine. Shelby said that two business owners he has spoken to, each employing between 50-100, have set up programs to talk individually with their employees to hear their concerns and to explain the importance of the vaccines.
“I think programs like that, rather than just announcing that the vaccine is available, is to have one-on-one conversations with people, especially if you have a respected person within your organization or even bring someone from outside your organization,” said Shelby.
The lack of the public’s use of face masks was also a concern discussed by Shelby and others on the task force. Whether downtown, at area restaurants or in line at the revenue office, several shared seeing few people wearing masks. Shelby said the messaging needs to continue to be that masks are still recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arkansas Department of Health, even if they are no longer mandated by the state.
“I think there will be some retrospective studies done and they will show that masks have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and they definitely work. The fact that we didn’t have a flu season this year is totally attributable to people wearing masks,” said Shelby.
There were 28 new cases reported last week, yet the total number of tests completed was only 551, making the rate of positivity 5.1%, up from 2% the previous week. The number of active cases at the time of the meeting was 38, up from 28 at the same time the previous week. There were no COVID-related deaths reported last week.
There are twice-weekly COVID-19 vaccination clinics every Tuesday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Ouachita Professional Building, 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 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:
For additional vaccination information, visit www.cityhs.net/vaccine.
Three of the six educational representatives in the meeting reported having either one or two new COVID cases in the past week. Thanks to continued mask mandates at two of the school districts with a new case, one district required no quarantines and the other required only minimal quarantines. School district efforts at mass vaccination clinics have proven to be challenging as pre-registration numbers for two events were around 50, and final numbers for both were at or below 20.
The Garland County Health Unit tested seven individuals for COVID-19 last week. Those wanting a COVID test 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 health unit has begun administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and appointments can be made by calling the aforementioned number. The Arkansas Department of Health is also 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 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.