COVID-19 surge continues, vaccinations stalled

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The local and statewide COVID-19 case spike continued its growth, but has not spurred an accompanying increase in vaccination interest.

As of Tuesday, Beaverhead County clocked 82 new cases in the past week; there were 102 active and 1,328 total cases. The vast majority of new cases were in people in their 50s; people in all other age groups tested positive in the past week.

Two Beaverhead County High School students tested positive in the past week. School District #10 reported as of Monday, 51 total positive cases were tallied at school, with 13 of those staff members. The largest number of cases were recorded in students in kindergarten to fifth grades (21); 17 were tallied in students in sixth- to eighth grades.

Beaverhead County Public Health officials are urging residents who may be a close contact of a positive case to begin isolating and taking preventative precautions immediately, and not wait for confirmation from public health. Director Sue Hansen said the case surge has put public health staff far behind on its case investigations, and residents who are tested will get a call from the place that performed the test. Those who test positive are encouraged to contact their close contacts as soon as possible.

Close contacts are considered people who were within six feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period. People who are fully vaccinated do not need to be quarantined, but are asked to wear a mask in indoor spaces and get tested three- to five days from their last exposure to the positive case. If the person does not want to get tested, they should wear a mask for 14 days. All other contacts are required to quarantine.

Tests are available through Southwest Montana Community Health Center, Barrett Hospital and Beaverhead Urgent Care.

Community residents can help tame the case surge by wearing masks indoors, socially distancing, and increasing ventilation by opening windows and using a fan.

CDC officials are urging pregnant patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine, due to increased risk to the pregnant person and their unborn child. Of confirmed COVID cases in pregnant people, more than 22,000 people were hospitalized and 161 of them died. Approximately 97% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated, according to a county public health Facebook post.

Montana’s weekly COVID report for schools (as of Sept. 24) listed six total cases at the University of Montana Western (five in students). Wisdom School had one total case listed in a staff member.

Beaverhead County’s vaccination rate remained at 54%, slightly above the state’s 53% but below the national average of 56%. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists all but three counties in the state as “high” transmission of the virus. The worst case outbreaks are in Yellowstone, Missoula, Flathead and Cascade counties, which all registered COVID-19 test positivity above 12% in the past week. Beaverhead County’s test positivity rate was 21.54%.

Barrett Hospital listed four of its COVID-19 beds full, and the hospital itself was 44% full as of Monday’s statewide hospitalization report. Daily active hospitalizations were in the 400-range all week. Benefis Hospital in Cascade County; Missouri River Medical Center in Chouteau County; Kalispell Regional Medical Center in Flathead County; St. Peters Health in Lewis & Clark County; Pioneer Medical in Sweet Grass County; and Billings Clinic and Advanced Care Hospital of Montana in Yellowstone County were all over 90% full.

There were 6,249 new cases and 59 new deaths added statewide in the past week, as Montana passed the 2,000-death mark from the virus. As of Tuesday, there were 154,739 total cases and 2,048 deaths from COVID-19 counted since the start of the pandemic last year. Hospitalizations also continue to grow, with Montana National Guard soldiers bolstering hospital staff overwhelmed by the caseloads.

Daily COVID cases and deaths nationwide have stabilized. There have been more than 43.6 million COVID-19 cases and more than 700,100 deaths recorded nationally since the start of the pandemic last year.