During the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force virtual meeting on Aug. 31, school superintendents from across Garland County reported a great first week, with hopes that communication from the task force can help clear up misunderstandings in the community about the state-mandated public safety guidelines.
First, superintendents want to make sure families understand the regulations in place were not set by the schools, but rather by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), the Arkansas Department of Education and the Governor’s Office. In particular, the quarantine and isolation measures, which are in place to inhibit the spread of this highly contagious respiratory virus.
Quarantine, which some families have mistaken for their children being held by the schools or at another facility, means staying at home and away from others after an individual has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. For those who have been a close contact to a person with COVID-19 (being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes), a quarantine of 14 days from the time of exposure is required. This is essential, even if the close contact individual does not feel sick and even if they receive a negative test for COVID-19.
Isolation is for people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Isolation means the individual stays home and away from others while they are infectious. In general, isolation lasts for a minimum of 10 days starting on the day the symptoms first appeared. Isolation is complete after the 10-day period as long as the positive person is without a fever (less than 100.4) without the use of a fever-reducing medication. Other symptoms, such as cough or shortness of breath, must also be improving. For those not experiencing symptoms, an isolation period of 10 days from the date of the positive COVID-19 test is required. Longer isolation periods may be required for those with more severe cases or those who have weakened immune systems.
It is also very important for students, parents and teachers to remember that everyone who gets a COVID-19 test must begin quarantine immediately, and follow the aforementioned guidelines. School districts also rely on students and parents to self-report to their school district when they receive the results of their COVID-19 test. School districts each have an appointed point of contact for COVID-19, and they can begin contact tracing efforts within the school for possible contacts to lower the chances of virus transmission.
The Garland County Health Unit has a limited supply of rapid-response antigen tests from the state, solely for use on any students, teachers or school staff who are exhibiting symptoms. Once the supply is exhausted, the health unit will continue to give students, teachers and staff priority PCR testing through the ADH Public Health Lab. The Garland County Health Unit is located at 1425 Malvern Avenue, and provides drive-up COVID-19 testing from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday – Friday. To minimize wait times, call ahead at 501-624-3394.
There will also be a popup testing event at the Garland County Library, next to the health unit, from 4 – 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3. There is no cost for COVID-19 testing, and anyone who suspects they may have been exposed, even if they do not currently have symptoms, is encouraged to get tested because asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread is prevalent with this virus.
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby shared that even though the numbers for Garland County continue to be flat, he is still concerned about the lower number of tests coming in for the county.
“The community is working really hard and I feel really positive about where we are now, but we cannot let our guard down and must continue to encourage testing,” he said.
For the week of Aug. 23-30, Shelby reported 111 new cases, compared to the previous week’s 114. The number of active cases fell again, this time from 176 to 138, as of Monday morning. The number of tests completed last week was again just over 1,000, and the county’s positivity rate remained at 10.2%.
The distribution in the county showed that the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village rose from 11 to 17 cases. Cases among those with Spanish surnames dropped, which Shelby said he hopes is a credit to the outreach being done by Kim Donaldson and Marcella Torres of the task force, but he fears it may be due to a lack of testing among that population. The 6-17 age group saw an increase from 11 to 15 cases, and Shelby again expressed concern about the increase in the 65-and-older group, which went up from 20.3% to 23.5% of the county’s cases.
The number of deaths was up to 29 at the time of the meeting, which is an increase of four from the time of the previous week’s meeting.
Representatives from National Park Medical Center and CHI St. Vincent provided updates on patient counts, with one hospital noticing a lower volume of both general and ICU patients, and the other hospital still seeing daily census numbers remaining high.
The United Way of the Ouachitas continues to work to meet the needs of the community, and now is also serving as a hurricane relief donation site. 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.