Union County on Thursday added a record-breaking 139 new COVID-19 cases to the cumulative total recorded since the pandemic began amid a nationwide surge in virus infections caused by the new omicron variant.
The number of local residents actively infected with the virus was also higher than ever on Thursday at 667.
Since the new year began on Saturday, 366 new COVID cases have been identified locally. The seven-day positivity rate for the county was 27.7% on Thursday, meaning more than a quarter of all the people tested for COVID-19 in the last week have come up positive for the virus.
Statewide and across the country, the story is much the same.
In Arkansas, 25,768 new cases have been identified since the new year began and the state's seven-day positivity rate was 29.4% on Thursday. A record-breaking number of new cases were identified for three days in a row, including Thursday, and active cases were at an all-time high of 44,169 yesterday, representing about 1.5% of the state's population infected with COVID, according to 2020 Census data.
Last week, state Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero noted that in addition to the sky-rocketing number of COVID cases being identified, the state is facing a shortage of monoclonal antibody treatments, which are meant to help keep high-risk COVID patients out of the hospital.
Three monoclonal antibody drugs have been approved to treat COVID-19, but Romero said only one, Sotrovimab, has shown to be effective in treating omicron cases of the virus.
"(Monoclonal antibody infusions) work depending on the variant that is dominant in the community," he said. "Delta is no longer the predominant variant in our community. We're dealing with the omicron... The treatment of choice today is the Sotrovimab."
Other drugs used to fight the virus also exist, including two anti-viral drugs -- Molnupiravir and Paxlovid -- and a pre-exposure treatment called Evusheld. Romero said last week that the anti-viral drugs are also currently in short supply.
"These do work against all of the known COVID variants, including the omicron," he said. "We will be receiving more of these in the future, (but) these are extremely limited at this time."
Cindy Grimmett, executive assistant to the CEO at Medical Center of South Arkansas, said on Wednesday that the hospital is still receiving an allotment of monoclonal antibody treatments.
"Generally speaking, monoclonal antibodies are administered to people who have COVID symptoms or who have tested positive for COVID and who have a high likelihood of being hospitalized. The primary goal is to help those people avoid hospitalization," she said. "Physician orders are required for the treatment."
She said seven patients were being treated for COVID at the hospital on Wednesday. The News-Times asked for an update on the patient count Thursday but did not receive a response by press time.
COVID in schools, nursing homes
COVID-19 cases have also spread rapidly this week among students and staff at area schools, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health.
A report on active cases in schools across the state produced by the ADH on Thursday showed that four of the five districts in Union County had more than five active cases within the district population.
According to the report, there were 25 active cases in the Smackover-Norphlet School District Thursday; 14 in the El Dorado School District; 13 in the Parkers Chapel School District; and eight in the Junction City School District.
Since the 2021/2022 school year began, 116 cases have been identified in the SNSD; 180 in the ESD; 86 in the PCSD; and 47 in the JCSD.
South Arkansas Community College also reported six active cases among its student and staff on Thursday. In all, 47 cases have been identified at the college so far this school year.
A similar report made by the ADH on Monday listed only the ESD among districts with five or more active cases.
The Smackover-Norphlet School Board voted 3-2 Wednesday evening to reinstate a mask mandate for students and staff after 14% of students and 9% of staff were sent home this week due to COVID infections or exposure.
Students in the ESD, likewise, are masking up this week due to high COVID transmission levels in the community.
A clinic for JCSD students ages 5 to 11 who have received their first COVID vaccine dose is scheduled for Jan. 12. Parents should have received information about the clinic, including sign-up forms, earlier this week; those are due by Jan. 11.
Several local nursing homes also reported COVID-19 cases among staff members this week.
According to a report on COVID cases at nursing homes produced by the ADH on Jan. 3, Advanced Health & Rehab reported three active cases in staff members, with the most recent positive test result having returned on Dec. 30, 2021. Courtyard Healthcare and Rehabilitation reported three active cases among its staff, while Timberlane Health and Rehab reported 10 active cases among staff; both reported that a staff member tested positive most recently on Jan. 3.
A vaccine clinic was held last week at Douglas Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in conjunction with MCSA. Grimmett said 52 people received their COVID vaccines at the clinic.
Several more clinics are scheduled in the coming weeks. At all of the clinics, the Pfizer vaccine will be available, including for children 5 to 11 years old. Those who wish to get a booster shot are also invited to attend the clinics.
"As vaccination is the best tool available to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we strongly encourage individuals who are not yet vaccinated or have yet to receive their booster to do so," Grimmett said on Wednesday.
Vaccines against COVID are free and one does not need health insurance to get one.
Upcoming clinics are scheduled for Monday, Jan. 24, from 10 a.m. to noon at First Baptist Church - Cordell, 612 Cordell Ave. and from 5 to 7 p.m. at New Olive Branch Baptist Church, 1548 N. Roselawn Ave.; Wednesday, Jan. 26, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Douglas Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, 969 Smackover Hwy.; Friday, Jan. 28, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Abundant Life Ministries & Family Worship Center, 501 W. Block St.; and Monday, Feb. 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. at New Olive Branch.
According to the ADH, COVID-19 vaccines are available at the following health care clinics in Union County:
- I Can Nursing, LLC: 267 Union Rd. 81, Mount Holly; 870-315-5921
- Walmart: 2730 N. West Ave., El Dorado; 870-862-4866
- Brookshire Pharmacy #48: 2202 N. West Ave., El Dorado; 870-864-0107
- Genoa Healthcare: 715 N. College Ave. Ste. P1, El Dorado; 870-639-6227
- South Arkansas Womens Clinic, PLC: 706 W. Grove St., El Dorado; 870-863-8444
- Medical Center of South Arkansas: 700 W. Grove St., El Dorado; 870-863-2000
- Walgreen Co.: 701 W. Grove St., El Dorado; 870-881-8434
- South Arkansas Dialysis: 620 W. Grove St., El Dorado; 870-862-8788
- CSS Healthcare, LLC: 205 W. Faulkner St., El Dorado; 870-639-3910
- Dr. Ray Pediatrics: 403 W. Oak Ste. 201, El Dorado; 870-862-8221
- Brookshire Pharmacy #40: 220 S. West Ave., El Dorado; 870-863-7996
- Melvins Discount Pharmacy, 828 W. Hillsboro, El Dorado; 870-863-4155
- SAMA Healthcare Services: 600 S. Timberlane, El Dorado; 870-862-2400
- Access Medical Clinic El Dorado: 2280 E. Main St., El Dorado; 870-444-5216
- Union County Health Unit: 301 American Rd., El Dorado; 870-863-5101
- Clean Harbors: 309 American Rd., 870-863-7173
- Life Touch Hospice: 2301 Champagnolle Rd., El Dorado; 870-862-0337
- Strong Clinic: 253 S. Concord, Strong; 870-797-7620