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County sees COVID winter spike, 'devastation from this virus continues,' county health officer says


The following is a news release by the Garland County COVID-19 Task Force on Tuesday.

With 101 new COVID-19 cases reported in Garland County during the week of Dec. 5 – 12, Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby reported to the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force at the Dec. 13 meeting that after a good run over the past six to eight weeks, he thinks the winter spike has hit the county.

The 101 new cases, or 14.4 cases per day, is the highest weekly total in seven weeks and is almost double the previous week’s total of 53 new cases and 7.6 per day. There were 1,443 test results last week for a positivity rate of 7%, up from the previous weeks’ 4% and 2.2%. Active cases, which had been below 100 in the county for almost two months, rose by 66 to 135, as of Monday morning. There were five additional COVID-related deaths, bringing the county’s pandemic death total to 407. Shelby pointed out that a year ago there were 149 total COVID deaths in Garland County, illustrating “how the devastation from this virus continues on.”

Shelby said that although this surge was delayed in comparison to last year’s, it was expected with the cooling temperatures of winter. There were around 300 active cases in the county this time last year.

Shelby updated the task force on the vaccination rate for Garland County, which continues to lag behind the state and country. He said only 43% of Garland County residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 50% of Arkansas residents and 61% across the U.S.

“We’ve got some real challenges there. We have to continue to promote vaccinations. There is a lot of talk about the omicron variant, which is probably coming, but we definitely have the delta variant, which is highly contagious. I think people need to take precautions as we continue on throughout the winter and holiday season or we’ll continue to see our numbers rise,” Shelby said.

Area hospitals – CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center – have also seen an uptick in COVID cases with a total of 21 confirmed positives and one additional patient under investigation (PUI). At the time of the meeting, there were six total COVID patients in intensive care and three that required ventilation. The hospitals have also seen a spike in flu patients.

Case numbers in the county’s seven public school districts have also increased.

Cutter Morning Star School District was the only district in the meeting that had no current active cases or quarantines.

Fountain Lake School District has had an increase in cases with five active student cases and 48 students in quarantine; the district also reported six active staff cases and an additional staff member in quarantine. Of the 48 student quarantines, 22 are participating in the Test-to-Stay program. The district is planning to offer COVID testing before the return to school after the holiday break.

Hot Springs School District has also seen an uptick as they reported eight active cases – four student cases and four staff cases. The district held a second vaccination clinic on Dec. 3, in which there were 160 students vaccinated and 15 adults. The district also plans to offer rapid COVID testing on Monday, Jan. 3, as a preventative measure before the start of school on Jan. 4.

Jessieville School District reported no active cases and 10 students in quarantine from out-of-school exposure. The district hosted a COVID vaccine clinic on Dec. 10 for those ages 5-11 in need of a second dose, and approximately 40 doses were administered.

Lake Hamilton School District reported seven active student cases and 10 students in quarantine, along with one staff member in quarantine. The district also hosted a vaccine clinic last week with around 50 doses administered, including several first shots, second doses and boosters. Most students who participated were in the 5-11 age group.

Mountain Pine School District reported three active cases – one student case and two staff cases – as well as 12 students in quarantine.

After several weeks of having no active cases on campus, National Park College reported having two positive cases and two in quarantine. The semester is winding down this week, so they anticipate their numbers will drop off until the return of school in January.

The Garland County Health Unit continues to administer the influenza (flu) vaccine, as well as the following COVID vaccines: pediatric and adult-dose Pfizer, and the initial and booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The clinic is now also administering COVID boosters for ages 16-17. No appointments are needed for these vaccines or boosters.

In the past two weeks, the health unit tested 29 individuals for COVID. The unit provides free COVID testing until 3 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and until noon on Fridays. 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. 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.

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