Garland County's COVID-19 statistics saw some of the highest weekly totals of the pandemic for Jan. 2-9, 2022, but representatives on the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force expressed determination in keeping public schools and essential services unimpeded, particularly hospital care for all residents.
"One thing that is really important for both hospitals: Despite the fact that we are busy, we don't want people to delay their care. The last two big surges that we had, we had people waiting until it was too late to come in – with heart-attack symptoms, bloodstream infections, stroke symptoms – things that are time-critical," said Mandy Golleher of National Park Medical Center (NPMC).
"I agree. Once they get decompensated, it is really difficult to get them back up to where they need to be," said Patricia Gould of CHI St. Vincent (CHI). "Even if you have COVID, if you truly are sick, don't delay coming into the hospital."
Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby provided his weekly COVID-19 statistic update for the county during the Jan. 10 virtual meeting of the COVID task force. There were 782 new cases from the past week, or 111.7 new cases per day. This is nearly three times the previous week’s 34 cases per day. The number of tests reported rose by more than 1,600 from the previous week to 3,145, and Shelby said this statistic and others are likely less than the actual number because of those who may not have been able to test or those who may have used at-home tests. Even with the increase in test results, the positivity rate for the county also went up to 24.9% from 15.5% from the previous week. Active cases jumped 604 from the previous Monday to 913 at the time of the meeting, sending this statistic higher than the same week in 2021 following the last winter's post-holiday surge. Garland County reported four additional COVID-related deaths, bringing the cumulative pandemic total to 433. Shelby pointed out that from previous surges, COVID-related deaths peak following peaks in active cases by between three to four weeks.
"I hope and pray that we are at our peak and it's going to be downhill from here, but there is no indication that we are there yet," said Shelby. "The next few days should tell us if we are at our peak or if we continue to go upward."
Hospital representatives reported an increase in COVID patients from a total of 38 the previous Monday to 50 at the time of this week's meeting. There was a total of 21 COVID patients in intensive care, with 14 requiring ventilation. Although breakthrough infections are higher with this omicron surge, between 80-85% of admissions continue to be unvaccinated individuals. Admissions have been on the rise, representatives said, and they are nearing the levels of the previous two surge peaks. The emergency departments have also been busy, and they are encouraging people not to use the ER for general COVID testing. For area testing locations, visit www.cityhs.net/covid-19 or https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-guidance-for-getting-tested .
There were more than 300 total student and staff cases reported from the county's seven public school districts at the time of the meeting, with more expected to be reported throughout the day and week. Although the surge is putting a strain on the districts, representatives on the task force said they are going to continue to do everything they can to keep schools open.
Cutter-Morning Star School District reported 27 student cases and nine staff cases. There were a total of 52 in quarantine.
Fountain Lake School District reported 14 student cases and five staff cases. Among the district's quarantines were three classrooms from the pre-K and kindergarten levels. The district's health clinic had a definite increase in testing Monday morning. There are more than 50 students in the Test-to-Stay Program.
Hot Springs School District reported 100 student cases and 19 staff cases, as of the end of the day on Friday, Jan. 7. The district held a testing clinic Sunday afternoon and had more than 100 students and staff participate. There are also more than 100 in the Test-to-Stay Program.
Jessieville School District reported nine student cases and five staff cases. There were 52 students and two staff members in quarantine. The district's COVID point-of-contact was on the phone all Monday morning, so the district's numbers were likely to increase.
Lakeside School District reported 66 student cases and 12 staff cases. The district is doing a lot of testing, and is renewing an emphasis on the COVID mitigation efforts of hand washing, sanitizing and social distancing. The district's data shows that 97% of staff/student cases were contracted outside of school.
Lake Hamilton School District reported 26 student cases and 13 staff cases. There were 97 students and four staff in quarantine. Among the quarantines was one pre-K classroom. Although not all of the staff cases and quarantines are teachers, the district is getting stretched thin for substitutes.
Mountain Pine School District reported 10 active staff cases and three student cases after having tested more than 70 last week and almost a dozen first thing Monday morning.
National Park College reported at least 20 positive cases, which is the highest number they have had since the start of the pandemic.
Aside from the public schools, staffing in other public service sectors continues to be challenged by this surge. City of Hot Springs City Manager Bill Burrough reported between 33-35 city employees out at the time of the meeting. He indicated that all service delivery continues, but may take longer than usual. Garland County government offices are continuing to provide their services, but County Judge Darryl Mahoney said it is difficult with the number of employees out. LifeNet had as many as eight staff out last week, but that number was down to three at the time of the meeting.
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.
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.