The following is a news release by the Garland County COVID-19 Task Force on Tuesday.
There were 15 COVID-19 deaths this past weekend at the two Hot Springs hospitals, according to representatives of CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center at the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Monday.
The hospitals continue to have high numbers of COVID patients, although they are down slightly from last week’s more than 110 COVID patients with a total of 98 confirmed cases and four PUIs (persons under investigation) at the time of the meeting. There were 29 COVID patients in the ICU on Monday between the two hospitals.
LifeNet’s Jason Gartner shared that one day last week they had more activity than in any single day in the 15 years he has been with the ambulance service.
“We are very, very busy. That, of course, translates to the hospitals, as well,” Gartner said, who added that drop-off times at hospitals have been higher than normal over the past month. “We’ve got great working relationships with the hospitals, and we’re coming up with some innovative ideas of how we can minimize (drop-off times), but sometimes it just cannot be helped.”
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said that although the numbers do not look good at all for the county, the rate of growth diminished somewhat for the week of August 8 – 15, pointing to the possibility we may be getting close to the peak of this Delta-fueled spike. There were 618 new cases reported last week, with an average of 88.3 new cases per day, with is down from the previous week’s 693 new cases at 99 cases per day. The number of test results in the county last week was down, so the positivity rate remained at 20.7%. The number of active cases went above 1,000 during the past week, but it had dropped back down to 995 at the time of the meeting, which was an increase of 105 from the same time last Monday. Shelby said there were nine deaths reported during the week, but that number does not account for the weekend fatalities reported by the hospitals due to the delay in the Arkansas Department of Health’s data regarding deaths.
Comparing this week to the same week in 2020, Garland County has four- to five-times more new cases per day and an active case count around four-times higher, “so we certainly have really big challenges ahead,” Shelby said.
On a positive note, vaccination numbers appear to be increasing. Shelby said that although “we have a long way to go with vaccinations,” there was a one-percent rise over last week in Garland County residents who are fully vaccinated, from 32-33%, and nearly a one-percent increase statewide, from 37.3-38.2%. Shelby said that he has also seen numbers indicating a significant uptick in Arkansans getting their first vaccination, which he sees as an encouraging sign. For vaccination information and locations in Garland County, visit www.cityhs.net/vaccine.
Shelby was also pleased that both the County and City offices, along with some of the area school districts, re-instituted mask mandates. “I know a lot of you received pushback on that, but it’s really the right thing to do. Masks are still the number-one way of preventing spread within the community, and certainly within closed spaces occurring within offices and schools,” he said.
Monoclonal antibody treatment is being offered by both area hospitals to members of the community referred by a physician. This infusion treatment has been effective at helping keep high-risk patients from developing severe cases of COVID that would require hospitalization. Shelby said it is now being given to high-risk patients as a preventative measure if they have been exposed to the virus, meaning a positive test result is no longer required.
Representatives from five of the county’s school districts attended this week’s meeting, which for most was on their first day of school.
The Fountain Lake School District has around 66% of its employees vaccinated. They reported one student case and one staff case. They shared a concern regarding slow turnaround time for COVID testing, with an individual having to wait six days before receiving a positive test result. Individuals who are tested for COVID should isolate until their results and further instructions are received.
The Hot Springs School District has a 73% documented vaccination rate among its staff, and the district has implemented vaccination incentives for both staff and students. At their recent vaccination clinic, 103 inoculations were given. They have another vaccination clinic scheduled for Sept. 3. They reported eight student cases and three staff cases.
The Jessieville School District starts classes on Wednesday, and they will have a vaccination clinic from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday at the cafeteria. They have had five vaccination clinics already, and they have seen increasing participation each time. They reported four student cases and one staff case.
The Lake Hamilton School District continues to promote vaccinations, as well, and they have an on-site clinic where they offer inoculations. Home-school applications were down from last year, which they attribute to trust from families in keeping students safe. The district does have a mask mandate. They reported 11 student cases and six staff cases.
The Mountain Pine School District did not implement a mask mandate, but they highly encourage the use of mask and vaccinations, and they reported that many students arrived on the first day wearing masks. Their football teams are out of quarantine, as of Saturday, and they reported one active staff case.
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 tested 95 individuals for COVID last week. 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. 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.
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.