The following is a news release by the Garland County COVID-19 Task Force on Wednesday.
The start of 2022 comes with big challenges as Garland County, along with the rest of the U.S. and the world, continues to be in the middle of the pandemic, Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said to the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force at the virtual meeting on Jan. 3.
In his weekly COVID-19 statistic update for the county, Shelby reported 238 new cases for the week of Dec. 26 – Jan. 2, or 34 new cases per day. This is down from the previous week’s 40.6 cases per day, but higher than the 14 weeks preceding the latest surge.
The number of tests reported increased from 903 two weeks ago to 1,536 last week, bringing the positivity rate for the county down to 15.5% from the previous week’s 31.5%. Active cases went up by 127, from 182 a week ago to 309 as of Monday morning. For the second week in a row, Garland County reported nine additional COVID-related deaths.
Because of the increased use of at-home COVID tests, Shelby said the state’s statistics for new cases may not be accurate. He said that the main figures we will be looking at in terms of the severity of the pandemic moving forward will be hospitalizations and deaths.
Area hospitals – CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center – reported a total of 38 COVID patients, along with another patient who was being treated but is beyond the 20-day mark since the COVID diagnosis and was no longer in isolation. There were 14 COVID patients in intensive care, and 11 that required ventilation. NPMC shared that despite supply shortages in monoclonal antibody treatments, they still have the treatments available. The NPMC representative added that the emergency department has been very busy.
The county’s seven public school districts were returning to the familiar post-holiday difficulty of tabulating the number of active cases and those out for quarantine. At the time of the meeting, district representatives in the meeting had only tentative numbers they anticipated would increase throughout the day and week.
Cutter Morning Star School District reported one active student case and two staff cases.
Fountain Lake School District reported three active staff cases and no known student cases.
Hot Springs School District reported six active student cases and 12 staff cases, with an estimated 14 students in quarantine. The district reinstated its mask mandate for two weeks based on case number parameters that were put in place when the mandate was lifted before the break.
Jessieville School District reported two active staff cases, one staff member in quarantine, no known student cases and eight students in quarantine.
Lake Hamilton School District reported six active staff cases, two student cases and five students in quarantine.
Mountain Pine School District implemented a 30-schoolday mask mandate starting on Jan. 4, when students returned from the break.
Aside from the public schools, staffing in other public service sectors is being affected by COVD-19. The City of Hot Springs reported approximately 23 employees out due to positive COVID test results. Garland County government offices had around 15 staff out with COVID-19 at the time of the meeting, including some critical positions. LifeNet reported six staff out.
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.
COVID-19 testing at the health unit has increased recently. Since the task force’s last meeting on Dec. 13, the health unit has tested 97 individuals. 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. The health unit is awaiting more information on a possible arrival timeline for the state-ordered COVID-19 home test kits, which will be available for the public.
The health unit continues to offer its full range of health services inside its 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.
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.