If a member of a student’s household tests positive for COVID-19, the student is also required to quarantine rather than continuing to attend school in person. This was the primary message from superintendents during the virtual meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force on Sept. 8.
Superintendents echoed their optimistic sentiments from the previous week’s meeting about their second week of the fall semester, but agreed that contact tracing can be burdensome. If cases and contacts increase, the effort could be debilitating. Students remaining at home if they are a close contact or have undergone a COVID-19 test themselves is vital to schools being able to operate in this pandemic.
School districts also rely on students and parents self-reporting to their school district when the student is tested and 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 completed more than 20 rapid-response antigen tests as a part of the total of 163 test samples they collected last week. They have a limited supply of antigen tests from the state, solely for use on any students, teachers or school staff who are exhibiting symptoms. Once their supply is exhausted, the health unit will continue to give students, teachers and staff priority PCR testing through the Arkansas Department of Health Public Health Lab. Also, for negative antigen test results, a PCR test will be used to confirm the result. 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. Around 40 vehicles took advantage of the testing event hosted by ADH on Sept. 3 at the Garland County Library.
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby shared that the case and testing numbers for Garland County continue to be flat. “We have got to continue everything we are doing – wearing face masks, social distancing and so on. We are going to have challenges over the next couple of weeks, and we cannot let our guard down,” he said.
For the week of Aug. 30 – Sept. 6, Shelby reported 94 new cases, compared to the previous week’s 111. The number of active cases, which had fallen in previous weeks, increased by seven to 145, as of Monday morning. The number of tests completed last week was again close to 1,000 at 993, but the county’s positivity rate dropped below 10% to 9.5%
The distribution in the county showed that the Garland County portion of Hot Springs Village dropped significantly from 17 to six. Cases among those with Spanish surnames also dropped to nine cases, or 5.3% of the county’s total number of active and possible cases. The 6-17 age group saw an increase from 15 to 21 cases, and the college-age group (18-24) more than doubled from 13 to 27. The 65-and-older group dropped from 23% to 17.6% of the county’s cases.
The number of deaths was up to 31 at the time of the meeting, which is an increase of two from the time of the previous week’s meeting.
Representatives from National Park Medical Center and CHI St. Vincent both shared that patient numbers slightly increased this past week.
The Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Call Center at 501-760-4307 has had more student-related calls. The call center is available to advise parents with questions relating to testing, quarantining and other COVID-19 issues. They also have contact information for area school districts’ COVID-19 point-of-contact representatives so that parents can report students who are undergoing testing/quarantining.
The United Way of the Ouachitas continues to work to meet the needs of the community. In the past week, multiple people sought assistance after recently being laid off by a local employer, said UWO Executive Director Sarah Fowler about the ongoing economic crisis resulting from the pandemic. 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.