Garland County's COVID-19 statistics for the week of Jan. 16-23 showed signs that the omicron peak may have passed, but members of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force remained cautious based on continuing hospital COVID admissions and the prevalence of at-home tests.
Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby provided his weekly COVID-19 statistic update for the county at the task force’s Jan. 24 virtual meeting. There were 1,011 new cases from the past week, or 144.4 new cases per day, which was down from the previous week’s 1,338 new cases and 191.1 new cases per day. The number of tests reported was down from the previous week’s 4,216, at 3,133. The positivity rate for the county rose from the previous week’s 31.7% to an all-time high of 32.3%. Active cases fell by 173 from the previous week to 1,679, at the time of the meeting. Garland County reported one additional COVID-related death, bringing the cumulative pandemic total to 437.
Hospital representatives from CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center reported an increase in COVID patients from a total of 50 on Jan. 10 to 80 at the time of this week's meeting, plus one patient who was beyond the 20-day mark since the COVID diagnosis, thus was no longer requiring isolation. There was a total of 19 COVID patients in intensive care, with 17 requiring ventilation. One hospital representative said they are seeing around 10 COVID admissions per day, and that around 13% are fully vaccinated with a booster. Some patients are coming from outside Garland County. Another added that although breakthrough infections with omicron are more prevalent, the vaccinations are still keeping people from extreme cases of the virus – thus keeping even hospitalized vaccinated patients from requiring intensive care and ventilation. Because of the continued admissions and some forecasts that show a possible increase in cases into the second week in February, area hospital representatives and other task force members urge continued vigilance.
Although reporting was ongoing following the weekend, school districts were seeing improved case numbers from the previous two weeks. There were approximately 297 total student and staff cases reported from the county's seven public school districts at the time of the meeting, with more expected to be reported throughout the day.
Cutter-Morning Star School District reported 16 student cases and one staff case. There were another 11 students in quarantine.
Fountain Lake School District reported four student cases and three staff cases. There were an additional 18 students and one staff member in quarantine.
Hot Springs School District reported 30 student cases and 13 staff cases.
Jessieville School District reported 46 student cases and 13 staff cases. There were an additional 47 students and five staff members in quarantine. The district's teachers who are out on quarantine are continuing to teach their classes virtually, when possible.
Lakeside School District reported 40 student cases and six staff cases.
Lake Hamilton School District reported 35 student cases and eight staff cases. There were another 83 students in quarantine.
Mountain Pine School District reported more than 50 active student cases and, since Jan. 3, 32 positive staff cases.
Both the City of Hot Springs and Garland County government offices reported decreasing numbers of staff being out with COVID. LifeNet reported having six staff out at the time of the meeting.
The Garland County Health Unit continues to administer the influenza (flu) vaccine, as well as the following COVID vaccines: pediatric (ages 5 – 18) and adult-dose Pfizer, the initial and booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and booster doses for ages 16-17. No appointments are needed for these vaccines or boosters.
The unit also continues to provide free COVID testing until 3 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and until noon on Fridays, but testing is now done by appointment only by calling 501-624-3394.
The health unit has also been distributing the state-ordered COVID-19 home test kits to the public. They have given out almost 38,000 since Jan. 10. The Garland County Library has assisted in the distribution.
The health unit continues to offer its full range of health services inside its facility. Family planning appointments are now being offered four days a week – Monday through Thursday. 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. 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.
After having to close their offices last Thursday and Friday due to COVID for the first time since the pandemic began, the United Way of the Ouachitas is back open this week. They continue to have 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.