County records 13th COVID-19 death amid new case spike

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A man in his 80s died Friday, marking Beaverhead County’s 13th COVID-19 death, public health officials said.

COVID hospitalizations are rising daily in Montana, alongside a spike in new COVID-19 cases in Beaverhead County and the state as a whole.

As of Tuesday, Beaverhead County added 21 new cases to its pandemic total in the past week, with 17 active and 976 total cases counted. Three people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at Barrett Hospital, and the facility was 39% full as of Monday. The county remains at 50% vaccinated, a number that has barely budged in weeks.

New cases in the county were in people in all age groups but those in their 90s. The majority of the week’s new cases were in people in their 70s, followed by those in their 30s. Beaverhead County Public Health Director Sue Hansen said the latest increase in new COVID cases is due to high community transmission, not any specific event or social gathering. Hansen said she has received more interest in vaccinations since the latest COVID case spike began.

With school starting, University of Montana Western officials are highly recommending mask usage on campus when social distancing cannot be maintained, regardless of vaccination status. Vaccination clinics will be held on campus periodically for students to get the vaccine if they choose.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued full approval for the Pfizer two-dose COVID vaccine Monday, for people ages 16 and older. The vaccine is also authorized for use in youths ages 12-15, and as a third dose for immunocompromised individuals.

A third dose of vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) is authorized for some immunocompromised individuals, Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials announced last week. An estimated 22,000 Montanans are now eligible for that extra dose. Individuals eligible for a third dose include people who have been receiving cancer treatments for tumors or blood cancers, people who have received an organ transplant and are taking medicines that suppress the immune system; people who have received a stem cell transplant in the last two years or are taking related medicine to suppress the immune system; people with a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency; people with advanced or untreated HIV infections; and people are in active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress the immune system.

Residents who may be in those categories should talk to their doctor to see if they are a candidate for a third dose of vaccine. County public health officials ask residents whose health care provider is through Barrett Hospital to call 683-1118, to be assessed for a possible third dose. Residents receiving care from other providers should ask their health care provider to send a note to public health if they need to get a third dose.

Hansen said public health is discussing logistics to hold mass vaccination clinics again, as third-dose booster shots are being considered at the federal level.

Statewide hospitalizations have steadily increased over the past two weeks, clocking in at 239 active as of Tuesday. The worst outbreaks of new cases are in large and lower-vaccination counties such as Flathead (41% vaccinated), Cascade (45%) and Yellowstone (48%). Those vaccination percentages have barely budged since last week. The state hit 50% of its residents fully-vaccinated against COVID, which is lower than the nation’s 51.5%.

The state added 2,728 new COVID cases and 25 deaths over the past week, with new cases between 400 and more than 700 daily. As of Tuesday, there were 123,946 total cases and 1,768 deaths counted since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year. The increases in cases and deaths are appearing nationally as well – each day over 100,000 new cases were recorded nationwide, and the number of deaths are increasing daily.

There are more than 37.7 million cases and over 626,800 deaths tallied nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.