Compared to other populous counties in Arkansas, Garland County has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases per capita as the county remains on its six-week low plateau of new and active cases, according to Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby at the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Monday, May 17.
Despite this optimistic news, Shelby said that last June the county saw a spike in cases – a situation he hopes does not repeat in 2021.
“Bottom line is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. That is how we’ve gotten to where we are at, and we need to push it on to the end zone. The vaccines are continuing to prove themselves to be very effective, very safe, and we’ve certainly got the availability,” said Shelby.
Shelby said he has been asked when we can say that the pandemic is over. According to what he has read, this could be considered when COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, which claims an average of 150 Arkansans per year, or three flu deaths per week. We are currently averaging three deaths a day due to COVID in the state, so Shelby said we have a ways to go.
Shelby also referenced the new mask recommendations released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which it was stated that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a face mask. Shelby encourage employers to keep up with the vaccination status of employees and have non-vaccinated staff continue to wear masks in order to protect others who have yet to be vaccinated.
Face masks continue to be required for employees, patients and visitors at both area hospitals – CHI St. Vincent (CHI) and National Park Medical Center (NPMC) – and the Garland County Health Unit.
In his COVID-19 statistic update, Shelby shared that there were 24 new cases reported in Garland County last week. There were 715 tests completed, making the rate of positivity 3.4%, up from 2.8% the previous week. The number of active cases at the time of the meeting was 27, down from 33 at the same time the previous week. For the fourth straight week, there were no COVID-related deaths reported last week.
CHI is offering COVID vaccinations five days a week. Patients can visit www.chistvincent.com/getmyshot or call 501-622-6556 to begin the scheduling process.
There are weekly COVID-19 vaccination clinics being offered at the NPMC Ouachita Professional Building, 1900 Malvern Avenue, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturdays. To schedule an appointment, visit https://www.eastgatepharmacy.com/covid-19-vaccine-scheduler.
Other vaccination locations include the following:
For additional vaccination information, visit www.cityhs.net/vaccine.
At the time of the meeting, there was a total of four COVID-19 patients were hospitalized between CHI and NPMC.
The three educational institution representatives in the meeting reported having no active COVID cases. School districts are planning vaccination clinics to include ages 12-15, including the Hot Sprigs School District in coordination with CHI.
Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison reported that the Convention Center has successfully hosted five graduation ceremonies and has two more to go.
“Things are really getting back to normal. The phones are ringing. The city is very, very busy. It’s going to be a very big summer, so we might as well get ready for it, and hopefully more people will get vaccinated,” said Arrison.
The Garland County Health Unit tested nine individuals for COVID-19 in the past two weeks. 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 and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines for ages 18 and older, 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.