14th Beaverhead COVID-19 death recorded, case spike grows

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A woman in her 80s marked the 14th Beaverhead County COVID-19 death. She died Sept. 1 after being hospitalized in a Beaverhead County facility, public health officials said.

The county and statewide COVID-19 new case surge also worsened in the past week, with the county adding 40 and the state adding over 5,000 new cases. Community-wide transmission of the virus remains at “high,” with most of the state experiencing a similar transmission rate.

As of Tuesday, Beaverhead County had 38 active cases, 1,046 total cases and 14 total deaths counted since the start of the pandemic. The majority of new cases were recorded in people in their 30s and 40s, followed by those in their teens and 60s; additional cases appeared in all age groups but people in their 90s.

Beaverhead County High School officials also announced a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 9. Supt. Gary Haverfield told the school board Monday that school cases in both staff and students have proven to be a challenge so far this year.

“Certainly it’s had a huge impact on what we do, to be honest with you,” he said. “We were about one staff member short of not having school for a while. If we can’t fill the office, we won’t have school.”

Haverfield said so far there have been 23 students quarantined and one staff member, as of last week. Assistant Principal John English also had to dust off his instructor skills and teach science class on Monday. Students and staff should be prepared to attend class remotely if they get quarantined or test positive, Haverfield said.

The county’s vaccination rate ticked up to 53% of eligible residents fully vaccinated, higher than the state (51%) but below the national average of 53.9%. Beaverhead County’s vaccination rate is 14th in the state as of Sept. 3, slipping two slots among other counties. The county’s largest growth in the vaccinated rate is in youth aged 12-17 at 37%, increasing seven points from a month ago. The least-vaccinated age range in the county is in the 18-19 age group at 29%; the highest is in residents aged 80 and older (92%).

Barrett Hospital had three COVID-19 patients hospitalized, and was 50% full, as of Monday. The fullest hospitals statewide (over 90% full) include Crow Northern Cheyenne in Big Horn County, Benefits Hospitals in Cascade County, Missouri River Medical Center in Chouteau County, Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital in Gallatin County, and Roundup Memorial Healthcare in Musselshell County.

The growing number of new and active cases in the county prompted University of Montana Western officials to require masks – regardless of vaccination status – on campus indoors, and where social distancing could not be maintained. The university’s announcement stated officials would re-evaluate the requirement at the end of the block, which is Friday.

The worst new case outbreaks continue to be in low-vaccination counties such as Yellowstone, Flathead and Cascade. As of Tuesday, Yellowstone had the highest vaccination rate of the three counties at 51%, with 1,780 active cases; Flathead had 43% vaccination rate, and 1,081 active cases; and Cascade had 47% vaccination rate and 983 active cases.

Much of the new cases recorded state- and nationwide are due to the Delta variant of the virus. It’s increased transmissibility has also contributed to a surge of overflowing emergency rooms with COVID-19 patients nationwide. The exponential growth and lagging vaccination rate pushed President Joe Biden to mandate vaccinations for federal employees and contractors on federal projects. Several states are banning masks and punishing school districts and municipalities from requiring vaccinations; others are taking the opposite tack. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said previously he would not impose a mask mandate or require vaccinations, though encouraged residents to get the vaccine.

The state added 5,470 new COVID-19 cases and 33 deaths over the past week. As of Tuesday, there were 136,175 total cases and 1,847 deaths recorded in Montana since the start of the pandemic. New cases counts exceed 900 daily, with most days topping 1,000 new cases. There have been over 41 million total COVID-19 cases and more than 658,410 deaths nationally since the start of the pandemic.