Beaverhead County COVID case surge worsens, kindergarten classes canceled this week

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The ongoing COVID-19 case surge in Beaverhead County prompted Dillon Elementary officials to close kindergarten this week, which public health officials attributed to large social events and school openings.

School District #10 Superintendent Randy Shipman informed district parents that kindergarten classrooms would be closed through Friday, Sept. 24 “due to high transmission rates of COVID-19 for staff and students in the kindergarten grade level.”

Beaverhead County High School reported two of its students tested positive in the past week. Students at the University of Montana Western will be required to wear masks in class through the end of the second block (Oct. 15), officials determined.

The county’s case spike worsened, clocking in at 107 new cases in the past week. Of those new cases, 14 were in children aged 0-9, according to Montana Department of Health and Human Services data. The majority of new cases were reported in those in their 40s, followed by those in their 20s; new cases were in every age group.

As of Tuesday, Beaverhead County listed 101 active and 1,153 total cases since the start of the pandemic. Beaverhead County Public Health officials posted Friday on the Facebook page pleading with residents to get tested if they are sick, stay home and follow any quarantine or isolation orders. The staff is not able to contact everyone quickly, due to being overwhelmed by the case surge, the post stated.

Barrett Hospital had three of its COVID-19 beds occupied, and was 50% full as of Sept. 13. The state did not update its weekly hospitalization report by press time Tuesday.

All but two counties in the state of Montana are considered at a “high” transmission level, the highest in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) scale. COVID tests performed on Beaverhead County residents are coming back positive 29.48% of the time, according to CDC data. That is higher than the positivity rate in other counties with large outbreaks, such as Yellowstone (11.12% positivity), Missoula (20.03%), Flathead (22%) and Cascade (14.38%) counties.

Vaccination rates have barely budged in the past week. Beaverhead County remained at 53%, higher than the state (52%) but lower than the 54.7% nationwide. As of Sept. 1, the highest vaccination rates in the state are those in their 70s (81%), followed by those older than 80 (77%), with the lowest vaccinated group being those aged 12-17 (37%). Beaverhead County’s highest vaccination rates are in those 80 and older (92%), followed by those aged 70-79 (81%), the lowest vaccinated group is those aged 18-29 (30%).

The worst new case outbreaks continue to be in larger counties, such as Yellowstone, Missoula, Flathead and Cascade. As of Tuesday, Yellowstone had 2,197 active cases, Missoula had 1,272, Flathead had 1,113, and Cascade had 1,032. Missoula had the highest vaccination rate (64%) compared to the other three counties.

New cases statewide passed the 1,600 mark on Monday; 6,338 new cases were added in the past week. As of Tuesday, the state recorded 142,513 total cases and 1,901 deaths from COVID since the start of the pandemic last year.

COVID-19 is closing in on killing more Americans than the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, which took 675,000 lives. There have been more than 41.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 670,500 deaths, ac cording to the CDC. New cases in the past week have exceeded 100,000 per day, and deaths are in the 1,000 to 2,000 range daily.