Representatives from Garland County’s seven public school districts reported a total of 33 active student and staff cases at the Sept. 20 meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force. This was a decline of 68 from the 101 total active cases reported at the task force’s Sept. 13 meeting.
Despite this encouraging decline in school cases and the overall downward trend the county has been experiencing, Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby applauded the school districts who decide to hold off on removing their mask mandates, at least until the situation can re-evaluated at the end of October. He cited a comparison of the current case numbers to a year ago. There were 147 active cases on Sept. 19, 2020, less than half of the 328 active cases as of Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Also, last winter’s surge did not begin until mid- to late-October.
“My recommendation is not to just look at where we are now, but to look at past data as to where we might be headed a month from now,” said Shelby. “Our numbers have really come down over the last three weeks, but it is premature to say that this downward trend is permanent.”
Cutter Morning Star School District reported the same number of active student and staff cases from last week – five student cases and one staff case. There were two students quarantined at the time of the meeting.
Fountain Lake School District is in a downward trend for the first time since school began. They reported three active student cases, no staff cases and 10 students in quarantine.
Hot Springs School District reported only one active student case, down from 36 a week ago, and no active staff cases. There were 30 in quarantine as of last Wednesday. A total of 77% of HSSD staff have been vaccinated, with the remaining 23% so far choosing not to be vaccinated or are not wanting to share their vaccination status.
Jessieville School District reported five active student cases, three active staff cases and between 12-15 students in quarantine. The district is hosting a student vaccine clinic from 9-11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23, following a positive response from a parent survey showing that enough parents wanted to have their children vaccinated to warrant another clinic.
Lake Hamilton School District reported seven active student cases, mostly from the early grades, and one active staff case. There are 46 students in quarantine, 43 of which had exposure outside of school or school-related functions.
Lakeside School District reported six active cases from their total student enrollment of around 3,500, with an additional 19 students in quarantine. There were no staff cases.
Mountain Pine School District reported one active student cases and no staff cases or quarantines.
The hospitals – CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center – reported a total of 32 COVID patients, down from 47 a week ago. There were 14 COVID patients in intensive care, and 12 required the use of ventilation.
In his Garland County COVID statistic report for the week of Sept. 12 – 19, Shelby said the number of new positive cases was 228, or 32.6 per day, compared with 266, or 38 per day, last week. With 2,725 tests reported, the positivity rate was 8.4%, which is the first time the county has dropped below 10% since June. The active cases dropped by 154 from 482 last week to 328 at the time of the meeting.
There were 19 deaths reported last week, matching the record-high weekly death total also recorded for the week of Aug. 22-29. To put the 366 cumulative county death toll from COVID in perspective, Shelby shared that a recent article ranked Mississippi as the state with the highest COVID death rate at one person per 320 in the state having died from the virus. Arkansas’ death total of 7,445 has the state’s death rate at one person per 402 having died from COVID. For Garland County, however, with a population of around 100,000, the death rate is one in 273 people in our county who have died from COVID.
“This is a sobering number, to see the impact this has had on the death rate in Garland County, and I’m sure everyone on this call knows someone, either directly or indirectly, who has died from COVID,” said Shelby.
Shelby said Garland County remains low in terms of the number of vaccinated residents. The county continues to lag 10% behind the state with only 44% of the total number of vaccine-eligible Garland County residents (those ages 12 and older) who have been vaccinated, compared to Arkansas’ total of 54%. The percentage for the country in this category is 64%.
City Manager Bill Burrough shared that as of last Friday, 256 City employees had presented their vaccination cards to the Human Resources department as a part of the City’s recently implemented employee vaccination incentive, or reward, program. That means that around 42% of the City’s employees are vaccinated, which is an increase of around 10% from before the program started.
“Whatever we can do to increase our vaccination percentage, in the short term and in the long term, is going to be crucial because we are still in the middle of the worst pandemic, probably in the history of Garland County and Arkansas, and we cannot let our guard down. I think it is important that we also take advantage of the flu vaccine,” Shelby said, adding that the reason there was not much of a flu season in 2020 was because many people were wearing masks, which is not the case this year.
Cody Turner, pharmacist at Village Health Mart East Gate Pharmacy who is helping coordinate and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, said their pharmacy has administered around 39 of the monoclonal antibody infusion treatments at an average of two to three a day. For eligibility requirements and to schedule an appointment, visit https://www.eastgatepharmacy.com/monoclonal-antibody-therapy-mab. Both area hospitals – National Park Medical Center (NPMC) and CHI St. Vincent (CHI) – as well as other area pharmacies, including Healthy Connections (https://healthy-connections.org/monoclonal; 479-437-3300), are also offering the treatment.
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.
The health unit performed COVID testing for 49 individuals last week. Those wanting a COVID test must 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 continue to be high, 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.
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.