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Posted on: March 15, 2022

HS/GC COVID Task Force: Active cases and hospitalizations reach low levels

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Although some of the area’s COVID-19 statistics continue to fluctuate week to week, the main indicators of the status of the pandemic – the number of active cases and those requiring hospitalization – are staying in steady decline.

At the March 14 meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force, Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby shared the current low active case count of 21. Also, there were only four COVID patients being treated at area hospitals, with one in intensive care, according to representatives from CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center.

Shelby’s Garland County COVID statistic report for the week of March 6 – 13 included 253 new cases, or an average of 36 per day, which is up from the previous week’s 208 new cases and 29.7 new cases per day. The positivity rate of 26% was up from the previous week’s 17.5%. Active cases fell from 36 the previous week to 21, at the time of the meeting, which is the lowest active case count since nearly a year ago on April 5, 2021. There were 10 reported COVID-19 deaths last week.

Shelby explained that aside from the active case count, other statewide statistics are not providing a clear picture of the current state of the virus in our community. COVID test results, which can be sent to the state health department from a variety of national labs, are likely to include positive results from previous weeks. At-home testing also continues to be prevalent.

Shelby said that overall, Garland County continues to look good, but COVID has proven to be unpredictable. “There are no current indicators of another possible spike, but this virus has tricked us before. With vaccinations and awareness, we are in a good place,” said Shelby. “Whether or not the pandemic is close to being over remains to be an open question.”

Noting that the task force has been meeting for almost exactly two years to date, and the challenges the community has faced during that time, Shelby gave a positive assessment of our community. “Not to say that we won’t have other issues, or even COVID-related issues, but I think that we can be proud of ourselves as a community for addressing this really terrible, terrible disease. We will probably end up with over 500 deaths in our community from COVID-19. That is a big thing, and will probably be a big thing in the history of Hot Springs,” said Shelby. “But I feel good about where we are, and I feel good about our sense of community in rising to the occasion to deal with this terrible pandemic.”

Hospital representatives were pleased to report the low number of COVID patients, down to four from 22 two weeks ago. One spokesperson noted an increase in flu patients.

Only two cases were reported from the five public school districts attending the virtual 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.

Free COVID testing is available until 3 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and until noon on Fridays, by appointment only. To make an appointment, call 501-624-3394. 

The health unit continues to offer its full range of health services inside its facility, such as family planning appointments during the week between 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 through Friday, and from 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Tuesday. 

The United Way of the Ouachitas continues 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.

The task force will go from having bi-weekly to monthly meetings moving forward, with the understanding that special meetings can be called, or a return to more frequent meetings, should the need arise. Even if COVID-19 moves into the endemic phase, the task force has proposed maintaining monthly meetings so the group can continue to collaborate on other health-related community issues. “We (the Garland County Health Unit) could not have made it these past two years without the support of this task force,” said Susan Lester, director of the health unit.

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