Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby reported at the Aug. 17 meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force that following a spike in cases after the July 4 holiday, the numbers for the county seem to have stabilized and plateaued.
For the week of Aug. 9-16, Shelby said there were 174 new cases reported, compared to 171 the previous week, and 185 and 210 in preceding weeks. The daily average of new cases dropped to 24 from the previous week’s 24.4, despite days of 50 and 44 new cases on Aug. 10 and Aug. 12.
Active cases were at 240 at the time of the meeting, which is an increase of 31 from the previous Monday. The total number of individuals in the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) database for the county, combining confirmed active cases and those suspected of exposure, was 260 at the time of the meeting, up from the previous week’s 227. The only significant change in county-wide distribution of new cases across the county was an increase in cases in the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village, with cases going up to 15 from the previous week’s total of seven. Shelby said this week’s additions in Hot Springs Village include more from the older age groups, as well.
There has been a decrease of school-age children being infected in the county, from 30% of the county’s active and possible contacts to 20%. Shelby did express concern about an increase among the 65-and-older age group from 15% of the total on the ADH list to 19.2%, compared to the state current average for this group of 11%. He said this could lead to more hospitalizations in the weeks ahead.
Cases among those in the county with Spanish surnames seem to be stable at 34 individuals, or 13%. Kim Donaldson and Marcella Torres of the task force shared that they noticed most area testing sites lack signage in Spanish, and that the Hispanic population may not be getting tested. The testing locations they contacted said they will work on adding Spanish signage.
The concern about members of the public not being tested when they have had possible exposure or are symptomatic extends beyond the Hispanic population. The Garland County Health Unit had a lower number of test samples collected this past week, at 83. Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said recently that lower testing numbers has become a recent statewide trend. Susan Lester, administrator of the Garland County Health Unit, said they have ample supplies and resources available for testing, which is available at no charge at 1425 Malvern Avenue from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling (501) 624-3394. There are also several other testing locations in Hot Springs and throughout the county. A complete list is available at bit.ly/HSGC-testing-sites.
Representatives from National Park Medical Center and CHI St. Vincent shared that COVID-19 numbers have declined, although one of the hospitals had an influx of patients that has since settled.
With the start of public schools being next week, area school superintendents were offered a promise of support from several representatives on the task force. As Shelby put it, “There are challenges ahead, and we need all hands on deck.”
Shelby participated in a conference call last week with ADH representatives in which issues relating to the start of school were discussed. One concern was that the process depends on self-reporting by students/parents to school districts for positive cases because families will receive results sooner than ADH would be able to notify school districts. Shelby said that “everyone realizes and accepts there will be positive cases,” and that if a student tests positive, everyone in the household will be quarantined for 14 days. One superintendent shared that their school district has already had 17 cases reported to ADH, and that those 17 individuals represent a lot more people when taking into account all the contacts each of them may have had. Shelby explained that an official COVID-19 contact, according to the CDC, is defined as at least 15 minutes of being within a 6-foot proximity to someone who is infected with the virus.
United Way of the Ouachitas Executive Director Sarah Fowler said that they are anticipating an increase in requests for assistance after schools reopen and students end up going into quarantine, which would require working parents to quarantine as well. The UWO application for COVID-19 assistance is online 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.
Hot Springs Fire Chief Ed Davis ended the meeting by encouraging all leaders to train their workforces on virus mitigation techniques – use of face masks, social distancing, hand washing, temperature screening and disinfecting. Using the anecdote of football coach John Wooden, who started each season by teaching his players how to properly put on their socks and shoes, Davis said we should not take anything for granted and that these steps are important to keeping our people in the workforce.