Beaverhead County virus cases exceed 200

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Beaverhead County virus cases exceed 200

Beaverhead County set records for numbers of COVID-19 cases and active cases this week, with officials citing social activity and close contacts as driving the surge.

County cases spiked to 212 total as of Tuesday, with 82 of those considered “active” cases, according to the state of Montana website. That is an increase of 75 total cases over last week, and 42 more active cases.

The Dillon Tribune is using state counts for cases, as Beaverhead County Public Health’s Facebook page does not always update daily. Public health officials previously posted their threeperson staff are overwhelmed with the press of new cases and contact tracing, limiting their ability to update on a consistent basis.

Gov. Steve Bullock attributed Beaverhead County’s spike to the University of Montana Western in his weekly press conference.

Beaverhead County Public Health Director Sue Hansen attributed many of the county’s newest cases to UMW students, who picked up the virus in social situations like parties or bars, or were roommates with someone who is COVID-positive.

State data for Beaverhead bears this out – the majority of the new cases reported in the past week came from individuals in their 20s (27), followed by those in their teens (20). New cases were reported in individuals in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, which suggest positive cases are spreading the virus to friends and relatives, Hansen said.

“We have community cases that seem to be (getting COVID) by community spread, or they are direct contacts of positive cases,” she said.

Tests are performed on symptomatic individuals and their close contacts; there are no asymptomatic tests being performed at this time.

Two new cases in Dillon Middle School students were reported by School District #10 Superintendent Randy Shipman. The first student tested positive Oct. 7, and was last at the school Sept. 30. The second student tested positive Oct. 11, and was last at school Oct. 8. Both cases were in contact with other staff and students during the period of possible exposure.

Those students bring the middle school total to five positive cases, though the state’s weekly schools report only indicates one case in a student at the school. The report also listed one case at Beaverhead County High School and Parkview Elementary, though BCHS officials reported a total of five cases as of Monday.

The state schools report counts 30 total cases at UMW; the prior week had 19 cases reported.

The latest state schools COVID-19 report records cases through Oct. 2, putting it more than a week behind locally-reported data.

UMW changed its operational procedures last week due to the case increases at the school, and intended to update that Oct. 13. As of press time, its website has not provided new information on operational changes.

Case surges straining local, statewide health resources

Hospital bed capacity is now reported daily (except on weekends) on the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) coronavirus website. The most recent report (Oct. 12) indicates less than 70 percent of Barrett Hospital’s beds are occupied. However, medical facilities in Butte and Helena are running at more than 90 percent of their beds occupied.

The state saw its highest weekly growth in coronavirus cases so far this year, adding 4,264 new cases and 25 deaths compared to the week before. The state also set a record for the most cases added in a day on Wednesday last week, with 733 new cases. The counties seeing the largest increases in cases include Blaine, Cascade, Flathead, Gallatin, Missoula, Rosebud, Roosevelt, Toole, Valley and Yellowstone counties.

As of Tuesday, the state recorded 19,611 total COVID-19 positive cases, and 217deaths. New deaths occurred in residents from Big Horn, Dawson, Flathead, Missoula, Roosevelt, Wibaux and Yellowstone counties. Over 7.7 million COVID-19 cases and more than 214,100 deaths have occurred nationwide, as of Monday.

Beaverhead County Public Health Officer Dr. Megan Evans wrote Monday local healthcare staff are overwhelmed and facilities are stretched to their limits. She encouraged the public to do everything they can to slow the spread of the virus locally.

“Our dedicated frontline healthcare workers need our help,” she wrote. “We must decrease the numbers of COVID-19 infections in our county to preserve the hospital capacity we have.

“Now is the time to double down on COVID measures,” Evans added, asking at-risk community members to shelter in place, and others to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, avoid indoor restaurants and bars, and not patronize businesses that are not following public health guidelines.

Evans also stressed that anyone with symptoms should not go out (especially if they are waiting for test results), and should ask their doctor if testing is needed.