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Vaccinations voluntary for Unity Health staff; minor side effects seen

Although some health-care workers nationally are refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccines, Unity Health hasn’t had that problem because the inoculations have been voluntary, according to Marketing Director Brooke Pryor.

Pryor said second doses are being given to those who wish to take the vaccines, but none of Unity Health’s personnel are being forced to take it.

According to The Associated Press, some hospitals and primarily nursing homes were seeing as much as 80 percent of staff holding back from taking the shots, expressing what experts say are unfounded fears of side effects from vaccines that were developed at record speed.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a guinea pig,” said Dr. Stephen Noble, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in Portland, Ore., who was postponing getting vaccinated. “At the end of the day, as a man of science, I just want to see what the data show. And give me the full data.”

Scientists are saying that the drugs have been ”rigorously tested” on tens of thousands and vetted by independent experts. One public health official reported that “there’s a vaccine available but it’s literally sitting in freezers. That’s unacceptable, we need to save lives.”

No data has been released on how many of those offered the vaccines have taken them.

According to Unity Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Roddy Lochala, the hospital system has “seen an increase in minor side effects with the second dose” of the Pfizer vaccine.

“The side effects are experienced by about half of those taking the vaccine,” Lochala said. “They can include fatigue, headache, fever, joint pain, muscle aches and other mild symptoms. Even with the possibility of mild side effects, the second dose is vitally important because it helps reach maximum immunity. Those experiencing symptoms typically feel better within a day or two.”

He said many of the vaccine recipients also “have experienced arm soreness, similar to the flu vaccine, with Pfizer COVID vaccine’s first dose.”

Meanwhile, White County saw a drop in active cases Monday to 683. The death toll from COVID-19 in White County is now at 75, with 65 confirmed, and 4,827 total have recovered from the virus. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, the 14-day moving average of percent positivity by county through Saturday showed the county at 24.7 percent, the highest rate in the surrounding area, with only six counties higher in the state.

Searcy also was included on The New York Times’ list last week of areas where new COVID-19 cases are rising the fastest “on a population adjusted basis.” Searcy was listed No. 2 as having 706 cases compared with the previous week’s number of 404 cases (a 57 percent increase). However, Mayor Kyle Osborne said the numbers were for the county and the city has not seen that kind of increase.

“When Searcy’s name popped up there everybody went nuts,” said Osborne, who was called by multiple Little Rock news stations. “They had Searcy’s population at 78,580 and 600 and something confirmed cases and I’m like, ‘That’s the population of the county, not the city, you’re well over 50,000 outside of our population. So what they thought was going to be a big story turned out to be a smaller story.”

On Friday, Searcy was no longer on the list.

However, Harding University has returned to on-campus classes after ending the fall semester virtually as planned, sending students home to stay for the Thanksgiving break. The university is providing its own COVID-19 updates each weekday at harding.edu/COVID/dashborad, which showed 12 active student cases and 10 active employee cases as of noon Monday, the first day of the spring semester.

The virus continues to affect public schools as well, with the Beebe School District pivoting to virtual learning until Jan. 19.

“We have approximately 215 quarantined; we had 43 positive. There were two factors leading to the pivot,” Beebe Superintendent Dr. Chris Nail said. “We were seeing community spread at school in the classroom. We had four subs that were COVID positive. We are still getting a whole lot of positives turned in right now, so we are watching that but the plan is to return on the 19th.”

The city of Higginson also announced Monday afternoon that City Hall will be closed until further notice as a safety precaution “due to the recent uptick in COVID-19 positive cases in White County.”

It was reported that work would still be taking place in City Hall office but no one was being allowed in outside of city personnel at this time for any reason.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause but we have city employees who are considered high risk for COVID-19 and their safety and well-being is of utmost importance to us, so we must do whatever necessary to protect them during this time,” the city said in its announcement on social media.

Humane Society of Searcy not letting COVID-19 get in way of adoptions

Because of COVID-19, the Humane Society of Searcy has had to “radically change up how they are doing things because they have always operated as a walk-in shelter where people can look around and check animals out,” according to Treasurer Chuck Niementowski.

After a meeting was held with the board of directors and the veterinarians, the adoption and visit procedure was modified to a method that many other shelters are using during the pandemic, Niementowski said.

“First, they have to send an application in and we check some stuff out, confirm vetting and then approve it and then they can come in,” he said. “The purpose of all that was so we could reduce just the public flow of people, and that was for two reasons: One, to be more careful and protect everybody against COVID, and the second reason, which is probably the most important for us, is that we can’t let our employees get COVID. If they get sick, who’s going to take care of the animals? It’s not something just everybody can do.”

When visitors go out in the yard to play with the dogs, they are allowed to take their masks off because some dogs get intimidated by the masks, Niementowski said. “They can’t figure that out.”

During the course of the year, the Humane Society of Searcy has 1,186 animals brought in, according to Niementowski. Around 850 adoptions are made and almost 300 “return to owners.”

“What return to owners means is that when we get an animal in, we keep it at the shelter in quarantine for five days and that time allows us to get the vetting started to check them out,” he said. “But it is primarily to keep them there so if someone has lost a dog or cat, it gives them five days to contact the shelter and then we find out if they are there or not and then they can come pick them up. Per city ordinance there is always a five-day holding period.”

When asked if dogs or cats were more popular for adoptions, Niementowski said “certainly it depends on the day, but then we get to the averages, they are pretty close to even. Dogs are maybe 55 percent of the total of adoptions. On cats, we don’t require a full application but we do on dogs.

“Our adoption fee is the lowest in the state or close to the lowest in the state. It is certainly one of the cheaper in the state. It’s 75 dollars and that includes spay and neuter,” he said. “If they are puppies or kittens, when they are of age, it includes them bringing them back to the shelter for one of our surgery days because we have local volunteering vets come in one day a week and do spay and neuters. We have a nice full surgery in the shelter where that is done.”

As far as marketing for adoptions of the pets, Niementowski said the shelter has six pictures for each dog and a varying number of pictures for the cats. “It seems to be more important to have more views of the dogs.”

The Humane Society of Searcy, he said, uses the ‘romance of the write-up” when describing pets up for adoption on social media such as Facebook and Petfinder.

“Right now, we have a young lady who works for us part time but she also volunteers and is a veterinary student,” Niementowski said. “She does those write-ups and rather than just being dry, she does a romance with the write -ups.

“We have done some videos so people can see them [the animals] in action. There was one that was really popular when we had a bunch of puppies and they laid outfits out and the puppies picked out their own outfit and people really loved that. We had the puppies running around and whichever outfit they grabbed was theirs to wear.”

Another thing the Humane Society of Searcy likes to do is characterize the dog by their behavior, traits and disposition.

“All the dogs are different just like people,” Niementowski said. “They have different personalities, different energy levels and all that. We work real hard to match people up with a dog. We want these adoptions to stick. If we know dogs have certain traits that might not work out with the people. We try to tell them that and navigate them to want we think are better matches. We are more careful when we adopt puppies out and there’s toddlers because that often ends up being a problem. It’s not the kid, it’s the parents.”

Usually Christmas season is busy for adoptions but this December it didn’t play out that way.

“In most years, going back December is one of our higher adoption months, but last December it was just an average December,” Niementowski said. “I also have to say our inventory is low at this moment.

“Every year when you come to December, January, February, the inventory goes way down on cats because cats are seasonal. We will get real low on cats in the dead of winter and when spring or summer hits, we got about 75 cats and kittens. It’s crazy. At some point, we run out of space on cats but we try to keep up with that. We used to have an issue with dogs, but we just added another outside kennel system so our capacity is greatly increased.”

Flow is something that cannot be predicted, “We may not get a dog in for two days and the next two days we get 15 in,” Niementowski said.

When it comes to people returning dogs after adopting them, he said the animals are brought back “for the stupidest reasons.”

“The puppy was stealing the toddler’s toys and it made him anxious,” Niementowski said. “The kid is freaking out because the puppy is stealing toys from the kid. Well, how do they expect that puppy to know the difference between his toy and their toy?’ The puppy is going to bite and chew. It’s going to play. It’s just being a puppy. If a kid gets scratched or bit, they freak out and the world is going to end.”

Niementowski said rescue groups in Connecticut are sent some of the dogs.

“That has worked out real well. They go on transport. There is a huge demand up in the northeast for dogs,” he said. “Last week, we had some people drive here from Florida and within the last month we have had some people drive here from North Carolina because they liked the dogs we had on our social media.

“All rescues and shelters need to have a good social media program or they just aren’t going to do as well. We have what we have on Facebook and then we post all of our dogs on a posting site called Petfinder and that really does a whole lot of good and that’s how we get more of our out-of-town people. We get people coming from all over Arkansas.”

He said the northeastern part of the United States has more of a shortage of dog because “it’s more in the culture to spay and neuter your dogs and don’t let them run around and breed, but in this part of the country, unfortunately there’s a lot of the culture that thinks that is what you are supposed to do so they don’t spay and neuter their dogs and most of the country does. That is common with Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.”

Pangburn lands $129,000 ARDOT grant to rebuild/repair sidewalks


Pangburn has landed $129,000 from the Arkansas Department of Transportation to rebuild and repair its sidewalks, according to Mayor Mike Marsh.

“It’s the Trails to School grant program and what we will be doing is rebuilding/repairing the sidewalk in front of all the businesses on Main Street and also the sidewalk going down Searcy Street, right there in the middle of town,” Marsh said. “It may be another six or eight months to kick off this project. We have been awarded the grant but now we have to do the engineering and all that kinds of stuff.”

Marsh said Pangburn applied for the grant over a year ago. He said it was a long process. The current sidewalks, according to Marsh, are “50 years old are better and are pretty beat-up with cracks, uneven.”

He said the city is looking forward to putting the new sidewalks in and “restoring for everything uptown.”

Pangburn’s portion of the sidewalk program will be $32,500, Marsh said.

“It’s going to be an exciting project,” he said.

Marsh said Pangburn also has won the “Trendsetter City Award” from Arkansas Business.

“We won it for cities under 5,000 population,” Marsh said. “We won it for public safety because we’ve been cross-training our police department and our fire department as first responders and firemen.

“... We are excited about it because it honors our public safety departments and they are both working really hard to keep us safe. I am just proud of them.”

Pangburn is stronger if everyone is together, Marsh stressed. “That is where we are at. We are all together. We’re working together; we’re helping each other.

Marsh said the city also just got a grant for $5,762 for the fire department. “We got it from the Arkansas Department of Rural Services. We are going to be purchasing a washing and drying system for our fire department so they can wash their turnouts.”

Dog kennel in Judsonia to be repaired


Judsonia is planning to repair its dog kennel this year after plans fell through because of COVID-19 to build a new one, Mayor Stan Robinson said.

“We were supposed to have Last Hope [K9 Rescue of Boston] come in and give us $8,000 to help build a new one and now it turns out our kennel is in such bad shape that we are going to go ahead and just fix the one we have, and hopefully this Last Hope comes in and we can put the kennel where we want it,” Robinson said. “We got a few donations, but most of it I just put it in the budget to take care of it. It will be about $3,500” to fix the current kennel.

Judsonia also received information Thursday, Robinson said, concerning a grant that the city is going to pursue to help the city with a new fire station.

Right now, Robinson said they have a fire station downtown and one in Depot Town. “We will shut the one downtown down I’m sure once we get that other one built.” He said the new one will be right next to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses at 908 Arkansas Highway 367.

Robinson also hopes to get the city’s activities going again during this new year.

“We missed out on our fireworks last year and we missed out on our Prospect Bluff Days,” Robinson said. “We had just got that started back and it was kind of a setback and disappointing for the city, and me as well because I worked hard to get those things back going again.”

Looking back at things that were accomplished in 2020, Robinson talked about the cleaning up of various properties. The city also purchased three police trucks, handled negotiations for a Verizon tower, completed construction on a community building and completed several police classes, including deescalation classes and radar certification. Overlays on several streets were completed, too, and a new canopy was built at Friendly Acres Park.