County clocks five active virus cases

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Test site

The Beaverhead County Public Health Department’s free COVID-19 testing on Friday drew a long line of community members to a drive through event outside the Beaverhead County Public Health Clinic on the south side of Dillon. In two hours, the clinic tested around 70 citizens. A second free testing event is postponed. J.P. Plutt photo

Beaverhead County has five active cases of the coronavirus, and six overall positive cases, the public health department said Tuesday.

Public health corrected the case counts Monday afternoon, when it was determined one individual is from out of state.

Public health previously reported seven total positive cases. The four newest cases were reported as two women in their 30s, who were close contacts of a previously-identified case. Two others – a girl under age 10, and a woman in her 40s – were also identified as having the virus, though where they contracted it is still being investigated. All four females had symptoms when they were tested, public health officials said.

The county’s third case reported is a man in his teens, identified July 9. The second case reported is a man in his 40s on July 6.

The county’s first case was a woman in her 20s back in April; she has since cleared the virus.

It is unclear which of the previously-listed cases is the out-of-state individual; public health did not have updated information available as of press time Tuesday.

There have been no deaths of Beaverhead County residents tallied to date.

Montana saw 625 new cases and 11 new deaths over the past week. There were 1,952 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the state as of Tuesday, and 34 deaths from the virus. Yellowstone County has the largest number of cumulative positive cases at 557, and 13 deaths. Gallatin, Missoula, Big Horn and Flathead counties have the next-largest totals for positive cases in the state.

New deaths in the past week occurred in Yellowstone, Big Horn and Ravalli counties.

There were more than 3.2 million COVID-19 cases nationally, and more than 134,800 deaths as of Monday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

The disease has spread widely and quickly in the state since phase 2 reopening, local public health officials said at a Friday board meeting.

Public Health Officer Dr. Megan Evans updated the health board on what is known about the coronavirus, highlighting data indicating the disease has a long incubation period, and it appears people can spread it without knowing they have symptoms. This makes it easier for the virus to spread and harder to contain it once it’s in a community. The percentage of how many tests result in positive cases is at 4 percent, which is increasing from the 1 percent at the outset of the virus’ appearance in Montana. Many of the newest cases since phase 2 reopening can be traced back to large gatherings at weddings, funerals and churches.

Evans noted to attain “herd immunity” – or where enough people have had the virus that it cannot spread – approximately 70 percent of people would need to have contracted the virus. In New York, the hardest hit area of the pandemic in the nation, an estimated 21 percent of residents were COVID-19 positive.

“That’s still really far from 70 percent,” she said.

In Montana, 70 percent of positive cases would be roughly 200,000 people infected. Currently, the virus has an approximate 2 percent death rate, which would translate to 14,000 people dead.

“That would include the populations of Dillon, Hamilton, Stevensville, Whitehall and Ennis,” Evans added.

Though vaccines are in development, the fastest the nation has developed a vaccine for any disease was four years for mumps. Right now, the only ways to slow the spread of the virus until effective treatments are developed is to maintain physical distancing, have regular hand washing and disinfection, avoid large gatherings and wear face coverings.

“My son asked me the other day if we were in a war. I said I believe we are in a war with the coronavirus. When you are in a war you fight with the weapons you have,” she said. “It’s important to remember our battle is with the coronavirus, it’s not with each other.”

City of Dillon Mayor and public health board member Mike Klakken asked Evans if “slowing the spread” of the virus is the right answer. Klakken previously stressed he thought herd immunity would be the best way.

“Truthfully, looking at the data right now, there’s most likely not going to be a vaccine, flattening the curve doesn’t stop the virus,” he said. “Instead of maybe getting it done in – I don’t know – five months, it might take five years now. Every so often you’re going to have to lock things down and people will go crazy because they can’t handle the confinement.”

Evans said it is uncertain how long the virus will be around, and noted there are over 100 vaccines in development right now.

Board member Charlotte Quist noted even if the virus ends up like the influenza virus, where the vaccine has to change every year because of the virus mutations, it would still protect the public and reduce the chances of people dying from COVID-19.

“Even if it doesn’t 100 percent pre vent the symptoms, it may prevent more severe cases, it may reduce the severity and duration of time the person is sick,” she said. “Evidence from the flu vaccine is we may still get protection. Will we ever reach herd immunity – I doubt it.”

“We’re guaranteed never to reach it if you spread the curve out,” Klakken added. “I’m just saying we will have to live with this forever, just like the flu, so we might as well stop trying to scare people.”

The health board did not decide on additional restrictions in the county regarding mask-wearing or large groups at its Friday meeting.

Public health held a community COVID-19 testing event last week, Public Health Director Sue Hansen said. A long line of cars greeted the event, and public health officials learned valuable information on how to conduct future testing.

None of the new cases were identified through that testing, public health officials said. Test results are not expected back for seven to 10 days from the event.

A second community-wide testing event planned for Friday, July 24, during Dillon History Days for non-symptomatic people, has been postponed.