With a near ten-fold increase in Garland County’s COVID-19 active cases in the past five weeks, Dr. Gene Shelby gave a stark report at the virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Monday, July 26.
“We’ve gone from 63 active cases in Garland County to nearly 600 active cases in five weeks. This is a super, super contagious Delta variant that has the potential to really make a huge crisis, and I think it already is starting to do so in our community,” said Shelby. “The fact that the hospitals are starting to fill up and they’re limiting their services for elected procedures. We are facing some huge, huge challenges. I think whatever we can do to get people vaccinated, and also be aware that we are facing a major crisis in all aspects of our community.”
Shelby said has recently seen more patients who are finally deciding to get vaccinated. Cody Turner, pharmacist at Village Health Mart East Gate Pharmacy who is helping coordinate and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, has also seen an uptick in vaccination rates, with around three times as many first-dose recipients in recent weeks than those getting their second doses. For those now getting their first shots of the two-dose vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, Shelby said it is very important to get the second shot for the highest efficacy. In addition, it is important to remember that the vaccine will not offer its full protection until around five to six weeks following the first injection.
Multiple task force members reported hearing vaccine hesitancy being bolstered by reports of breakthrough cases – fully vaccinated individuals contracting COVID. Shelby said that around 12% of new cases are in those who have been vaccinated, but that the vaccines have proven to nearly eliminate the chance of a severe case of COVID that could lead to hospitalization or death.
In his weekly COVID statistic report, Shelby shared that there were 482 new cases reported for the week from July 18 – 25. There was an average of 60 new cases per day, which is up from six new cases daily five weeks ago. There was a total of 2,913 test results during the week, making the positivity rate 16.5%. The number of active cases rose by 189 from the previous week’s total of 367 to 556, at the time of the meeting. There were also two additional deaths reported during the week.
Area hospitals – CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center – both reported continuing rising numbers of COVID-19 patients. At the time of the meeting, there was a total of 62 COVID patients between the two hospitals, up from the total of 25 reported at the meeting two weeks ago. Of the total number of patients, 22 are in the intensive care units and 13 require the use of a ventilator. The ages of those hospitalized ranges from those in their low-20s to those in their 80s. Both hospital representatives said administrative teams are meeting to discuss COVID capacity as their overall numbers continue to climb.
“Vaccination is imperative to avoid admission and increasing illness and sickness. I hoped we would never see this surge again, but everybody just needs to stay the course. I tell our folks, ‘Wear your mask. Wear your mask. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands,’” said a hospital representative.
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’s COVID testing numbers have continued to increase, with 39 and 43 individuals being tested last week and the previous week, respectively. 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’ Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds, which are not restricted to COVID-related hardships, opened this week for anyone who needs utility and/or rental assistance. There is around $50,000 for Garland and Hot Spring counties, and the funds are expected to go quickly. There is also 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.