Coronavirus variants expand in state, fuel outbreaks in low-vaccination counties

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Low vaccination rates are leading to an increase in new coronavirus-positive cases in the state, largely fueled by virus variants.

The trend mirrors a national uptick in cases blamed on the Delta variant, which first appeared in India. That variant is considered more easily transmissible between people, and may cause more severe disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Over the past week, Flathead County has led the pack in new cases, with Yellowstone and Missoula counties also on that list. Flathead County has a much lower vaccination rate

(39%) than Missoula (61%) and Yellowstone (46%).

Beaverhead County’s vaccination efforts fall in a similar line to the state overall – as of Tuesday, 4,115 county residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (49%). The state counted 441,027 Montanans fully vaccinated (48%); the nation moved ahead of both, at 163.3 million people fully vaccinated (or 49.2% overall). Beaverhead County is in 11th place of counties’ fully-vaccinated percentages, with the highest vaccination percentages in residents over age 70.

Cases caused by the Delta variant are growing quickly, though it is not the most common variant in the state yet. As of July 20, there were 748 total COVID cases caused by vari ants, with the majority from the Alpha strain (first identified in the United Kingdom), followed by the two California strains. Statewide, 37 people were hospitalized, and six died, from the Alpha (UK) strain; 12 people were hospitalized and one died from the Delta (India) strain; and five people were hospitalized and one died from either of the two California strains.

The state counted 500 total “breakthrough” COVID cases since February. Of those, 51 people were hospitalized, and 10 people died of the virus. Most breakthrough infections have occurred from those infected with the Alpha (UK) virus strain. Breakthrough infections occur when a fully-vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19.

Beaverhead County has recorded 10 variant cases – four from Alpha (UK), four from Delta (India), and two from California strains.

Beaverhead County added five new cases in the past week, from three people in their 40s, one person in their 50s and one person in their 90s. As of Tuesday, there were three active cases and 934 total cases tallied since the start of the pandemic.

The state added 923 new COVID-positive cases and seven new deaths over the past week. As of Tuesday, the state counted 115,665 total cases and 1,699 deaths since the start of the pandemic. There have been more than 34.5 million COVID cases and over 609,000 deaths counted in the nation, according to the CDC.