During the bi-weekly Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting on June 21, representatives from CHI St. Vincent (CHI) and National Park Medical Center (NPMC) both reported seeing two recent trends – more younger COVID-19 patients than compared to earlier in the pandemic and hospital guests resisting wearing masks.
Together, the hospitals had a total of nine COVID-positive patients at the time of the meeting, with three additional persons under investigation (PUIs) for the virus. The majority of patients are below the age of 60.
Both local facilities have also experienced resistance to the mask mandates from those entering the hospitals. An NPMC spokesperson shared that even though there are signs in place explaining that face masks are required, they have had people become angry and almost want to fight over it. Similarly, the Garland County Health Unit has been giving away a lot of masks because many individuals are walking in without face masks.
Fire Chief Ed Davis, who coordinates the task force meetings, reiterated that the right of institutions to require masks is something of which we all need to be supportive. “Businesses and especially healthcare facilities have the right to enforce mask mandates on their properties,” he said.
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby introduced his weekly COVID statistic report by saying that the county continues to be on the plateau it has been on for the past month. There were 47 new COVID cases reported in the county last week, for an average of 6.7 a day, up from the previous two weeks’ averages of 5.4 and 5. The number of COVID tests was 680, making the positivity rate 6.9%, which is down slightly from the previous week’s 7.3%. The number of active cases at the time of the meeting was 61, up from 45 the previous Monday. There has been one COVID death in the county added in the past week to the Arkansas Department of Health’s database.
Shelby took a look back at the county’s COVID statistics from last year, and this week in 2020 there were 15 new cases and 25 active cases.
“We had very low numbers throughout the month of May last year, and then we started to see our increases in June and then really accelerating in July. Whereas, this year we had a spike that peaked the week of May 24 where we went up to 100 active cases,” said Shelby. “I think the next few weeks will definitely give us a lot more information of what to expect going into the rest of summer and then the coming school year.”
Shelby concluded by making another push for vaccination education and promotion.
“Getting people vaccinated is so important, particularly with the concerns of the new variants coming out being more contagious,” he said. “We need to watch our numbers closely and continue to try to educate people about the importance of the vaccines. We could certainly end up in a point in August where we’ll have significantly more people infected than we did last August.”
Following Shelby’s report and plea for continued promotion of the importance of vaccinations, multiple task force members said they have noticed a declining interest from the community regarding the vaccines.
A hospital representative also spoke to a misconception in terms of the virus, immunity and need for vaccination.
“I hear it a lot from people, as far as the vaccine goes, they will say, ‘I’ve had COVID, so I’m good now.’ I don’t think they have a good understanding that just because they have had it, does not mean they are going to have continued immunity,” the representative said.
The Garland County Health Unit is administering the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines for ages 18 and older, and appointments can be made by calling 501-624-3394. Along with requiring a face mask to enter, the health unit also has a machine that takes people’s temperatures. Those with elevated temperatures are not allowed to enter. As outdoor temperatures rise, individuals may have to wait, masked, in the foyer area to cool in order to get an accurate body temperature reading. The health unit’s COVID testing numbers have been up a bit over the past two weeks, with eight individuals being tested last week and 10 the previous 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 the aforementioned number to inform the representatives which number is indicated on the cone. The health unit also has available the state’s vaccination incentives – a $20 Arkansas Scholarship Lottery scratch-off ticket or an Arkansas Game and Fish license certificate – for anyone 18 and older who brings their COVID vaccination card to show their last shot was received after May 25. 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.
CHI is continues to offer COVID vaccinations five days a week. Patients can visit www.chistvincent.com/getmyshot or call 501-622-6556 to begin the scheduling process. For additional vaccination locations and information, visit www.cityhs.net/vaccine.
The United Way of the Ouachitas has an online application for COVID-19 assistance for area families and individuals affected by the pandemic 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.