Garland County’s COVID statistics have dropped down to levels not seen in almost two years, according to County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby, but he thinks it is unlikely the pandemic has reached its end.
“There are some comparisons with the COVID we have now to the flu, in terms of the amount of disease it’s causing, but one difference is that the omicron variant is much more contagious than seasonal flu. I don’t think COVID is finished with us,” Shelby shared with the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force at the April 11 virtual meeting. “We have to keep an eye on it because it’ll raise its head on us before it’s done. But, again, I don’t want to take away from where we are now. I think we are at a good place.”
Shelby’s area COVID statistic update for the week of April 3 – 10 included 11 new cases, or an average of 1.6 cases per day, down from the previous weeks’ daily averages of three, 21 and 19. With 338 recorded tests, the positivity rate dropped to 3.3%. The number of active cases was 29 at the time of the meeting, which was the lowest it has been for the past six weeks. There were two COVID-related deaths recorded, bringing the cumulative total to 508, but Shelby said these two were likely from weeks ago.
Shelby admitted that it is hard to predict what direction the pandemic will go moving forward. The BA-2 sub-variant of omicron is highly contagious, and larger cities and parts of Europe are experiencing spikes in cases. He said we could see similar spikes here, but there will be less indoor exposure as we move into spring and summer. Another positive is that many people either have been vaccinated or have natural immunity from previously having COVID.
Hospital representatives from CHI St. Vincent and National Park Medical Center reported a total of three active COVID patients, one of which is in intensive care. There was an additional patient who is beyond the 20-day mark since their diagnosis, thus not requiring COVID isolation. Both hospitals are continuing their mask requirements for the time being.
There were no active student or staff cases reported from any of the county’s public school districts.
National Park College reported having two active cases on campus, but one was scheduled to come out of isolation on Tuesday.
Bo Robertson shared that Kathy Packard, of The Oaklawn Center on Aging, was the recipient of the FEMA Region 6 Community Preparedness Award for her excellence in COVID-19 for everything she did to assist in the successful execution of the mass-vaccination clinics at the fairgrounds. Robertson, of the Garland County Department of Emergency Management, and Ty Farris, of the Hot Springs Fire Department, along with the help of Packard, developed a pattern for the vaccination clinics that the whole state could follow, according to Judge Darryl Mahoney.
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. On March 29, the health unit was notified it could begin administering a second COVID booster for those 50-years and older and for those who are immunocompromised, and the unit has seen an uptick in those coming for boosters. There are still vaccine incentives available, including either a $20 Arkansas Game and Fish certificate for fishing/hunting licenses or a $20 lottery ticket, for individuals who have not yet received an incentive.
The unit conducted five COVID tests since the last task force meeting a month ago. Free COVID testing until 3 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and until noon on Fridays, but testing is now done by appointment only by calling 501-624-3394.
The health unit is still distributing the state-ordered COVID-19 home test kits to the public.
The health unit continues to offer its full range of health services inside its facility. Among the services is counseling, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The health unit noted an increase of STD cases in the community. Individuals requiring STD testing should call for an appointment.
Starting on May 1 and running through Aug. 31, the health unit will have available Farmers Market benefits available for certain WIC participants.
Family planning appointments are offered four days a week – Monday through Thursday. Face masks are now optional in the health unit, which 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 continues to have 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.