While Garland County continues to show steady progress in many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of hospitalizations is on the rise.
Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said the hospitalizations should serve as a stark warning of possible long-term disabilities.
"Garland County continues to show a significant decline in the number of new cases per day, active cases, and positivity rate of COVID tests done over the past week," he said. "Our school districts also continue to show fewer positive cases among their students and staff, and we need to continue to applaud their efforts in achieving this.
"However, our hospitals are seeing a slight increase in the number of COVID inpatients. A disturbing trend is the number of COVID patients that are requiring longer hospital stays. I think this indicates that they are better able to prevent these seriously ill patients from dying, but also that we should expect to have more COVID survivors to have long-term disabilities. And a continued reminder that the serious effects of this COVID pandemic is among the unvaccinated."
Although the county showed significant improvements in many categories over the week of Sept. 26 to Oct. 3, the number of patients who tested positive for the virus in local hospitals increased by four, to 35 inpatients. At Monday's weekly meeting of the Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force, hospital representatives noted that along with the 35 COVID-positive patients, an additional nine being treated had been diagnosed more than 20 days since their initial diagnosis and were no longer in isolation.
Shelby said the total number of new positive cases from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3 was down by 92 from last week, while the positivity rate was 3.8%. Along with six COVID-related deaths reported last week, the active case count dropped by 46 cases to 230 as of the beginning of Monday's meeting.
Among the Garland County schools, another significant decline was reported with only 18 total cases, which marked a decrease of six from the previous week. Hot Springs School District had one active student case with a few in quarantine. Lake Hamilton had six active student cases with one active staff case and one contract employee case, with 20 students in quarantine. School officials noted, however, that only four of the cases were as a result of exposure at school.
While Jessieville reported no active cases and only one staff member quarantined, Lakeside reported five student cases. Cutter Morning Star reported no active cases with no quarantines, while Fountain Lake had one active student case and two students in quarantine. Mountain Pine had one student and one staff with 11 total in quarantine. National Park College reported only one active case with four students in quarantine.
The Garland County Health Unit began administering Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots last week along with flu vaccinations, with some patients receiving both in the same visit. It was reported at the meeting that the health unit is offering the state's vaccination incentives, including a $20 Arkansas Scholarship Lottery scratch-off ticket or an Arkansas Game and Fish license certificate for anyone age 18 or older who presents their COVID-19 vaccination card showing their last shot received after May 25. The health unit also performed 24 COVID-19 tests on individuals last week.
Regarding instructions for those who wish to receive a COVID-19 test, patients 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 continues to offer its full range of health services inside the facility. Along with the requirement of face masks to enter, the health unit also has a machine that takes people's temperatures and those with elevated temperatures are not allowed to enter.