The Delta variant of COVID-19 appears to be a primary factor in what Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby described as a “super spike” in new cases during his report at the July 12 virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force.
He learned in a recent webinar with the Arkansas Department of Health that the Delta variant is currently attributed to approximately 50% of the state’s cases, with the share of Delta cases expected to increase to 80% in the next two to three weeks. The Delta variant is much more transmissible than the original version of the virus. On average, one person with the seasonal flu will spread it to one other person; one person with the original strain of COVID-19 will pass it to 2.5 people; one person with the Delta variant of COVID-19 will pass it to eight people. The severity of the illness is also greater with the Delta variant, according to Shelby, and it is affecting people in their 30s, 40s and 50s more so than the original virus.
The symptoms are also presenting differently than the original strain, in that cough and sore throat complaints are being reported more than the loss of taste and smell. Shelby said that COVID testing is widely available, and that anyone with any respiratory symptoms should get tested as a way for the community to be able to identify and respond to new cases.
Beyond increased testing, the most important mitigating factor in the pandemic fight continues to be vaccinations. The vaccines, which are also readily available, are proving effective in preventing hospitalization and death, even with the Delta variant. Shelby said around 12% of new cases are among those who have been vaccinated. Generally, however, these individuals have not progressed to severe disease.
For those who have been fully vaccinated, quarantine is no longer required following exposure to the virus. Although the use of face masks is no longer required in most places for those who have been vaccinated, Shelby said he still encourages the use of face masks when social distancing is not possible.
In his weekly COVID statistic report, Shelby shared that there were 228 new cases reported for the week from July 4 – 11, which he said was the county’s worst week since the spikes in January. There was a total of 1,152 test results during the week, making the positivity rate 19.8%. The number of active cases more than doubled from the previous week’s 133 to 270, at the time of the meeting.
Area hospitals – CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center – both reported rising numbers of COVID-19 patients. At the time of the meeting, there was a total of 25 COVID patients between the two hospitals, seven of which were in intensive care.
The Garland County Health Unit is administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for ages 18 and older, with no appointment needed. 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.
Along with vaccinating individuals on-site, the health unit is also going out into the community to offer and encourage people to get vaccinated. The next event will be on Saturday, July 17, during the Spa City Classic pickleball tournament. From 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Hot Springs Convention Center Bank OZK Arena, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available for free for anyone 18 and older.
The health unit’s COVID testing numbers have continued to increase, with 28 individuals being tested last week despite it being a four-day week due to the holiday. 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. They continue to offer their full range of health services inside their facility. 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 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 continues to offer COVID vaccinations by scheduled appointments. 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.