County sees 43 new virus cases in past week

By 
Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Beaverhead County’s coronavirus caseload continued its upward trend this week, with three new cases confirmed at the high school, and dozens of students quarantined at the University of Montana Western.

Beaverhead County had 42 active cases and 137 total as of Tuesday morning, according to the state of Montana. That is 43 more cases, and 24 new active cases, over the past week.

The majority of the newest county cases are from women and men in their 20s (20), followed by those in the 10-19 age range (12). New cases also appeared in people aged 0-9 (1), 30-39 (3), 40-49 (5), 50-59 (1), and 70-79 (1), according to state data.

Three BCHS students tested positive for COVID-19, Superintendent and Principal Gary Haverfield said Monday in a press release. Haver field stated district staff and students were likely in contact with the virus-positive students during the period of exposure. Two of the students have not been at the school since Sept. 28; the other student last attended school Sept. 30.

UMW officials posted an update Sunday stating the school has approximately 44 students quarantined in the students’ off-campus housing, and 15 quarantined in on-campus quarantine rooms. Quarantined students either are symptomatic and waiting for tests or test results, or were close contacts to a positive case.

UMW altered its COVID plans through the rest of Block 2 (which ends Oct. 13), limiting activities and events (see related story).

It is unclear from where residents are getting the virus. None of the information provided by Beaverhead County and UMW school officials specifically lists sources of infection. UMW’s announcement referenced gatherings where social distancing and mask-wearing precautions were not followed as a source of other COVID clusters around the state.

“Health officials are still seeing cases that appear to have resulted from Labor Day weekend activities here and elsewhere,” the health advisories announcement on the school’s website stated.

Beaverhead County Public Health officials have not shared sources of infection, telling the public on Facebook their three-person staff is overwhelmed with the increasing numbers of cases.

Statewide school data for all levels of education is released weekly on Wednesdays. Last week’s data (as of Sept. 25) listed one COVID-positive case at Parkview Elementary, one at Dillon Middle School, and one at the high school. UMW had 19 total cases listed at the time, all reported within the past 14 days. Overall, schools with grades K-12 contributed 432 total cases to Montana’s case tally, and universities and colleges contributed 345 total cases as of Sept. 25.

Statewide, schools were the largest “congregate settings” contributors to total numbers of COVID cases in the state, followed by assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities, and correctional facilities. Other congregate settings with COVID cases include group homes, mental health facilities and senior independent living locations.

Hospital bed space beginning to tighten

Montana saw an increase of 2,623 new cases and 15 deaths over the past week. As of Tuesday, the state tallied 15,347 total cases and 192 deaths. The state hit its highest daily counts for new COVID-19 cases multiple times this week, with the most recent at 504 new cases Tuesday.

Gov. Steve Bullock said last week regional health care centers are starting to feel strained, as cases and hospitalizations continue to climb statewide.

Often, it is not the extra cases of COVID that present a problem, but those alongside traditional hospitalizations for influenza and other respiratory diseases and make it difficult to provide care to all.

Dr. Sandra McIntyre at Barrett Hospital and HealthCare said last week the hospital is not in a desperate situation yet. But a surge of cases statewide can potentially impact its ability to care for patients with all ailments. Traditionally, COVID patients can be cared for locally, but severely ill COVID patients may have to be sent to larger medical centers for more intensive care.

Barrett Hospital has two specific rooms for COVID-19 patients to provide optimal care; staff also have emergency plans in place to expand that space if a surge occurs and there is no other place to send patients.

McIntyre said the largest issue is staffing shortages; keeping extra shifts of staff ready to call in can be challenging.

“Masks matter – I can’t say it enough. When I wear a mask, I am protecting you. It protects against all respiratory illnesses,” she said. “It is unfortunate this has become a political statement, but it is really a simple and effective thing to do.”