Omicron variant driving Montana’s COVID surge

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The current Montana COVID surge is being driven by the ultra-transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus, public health officials stated.

The last two weeks have seen nearly double the number of new COVID cases each week compared to the last month, according to state health data. Daily case counts are in the thousands, a stark change from the end of December daily case counts in the low hundreds. As of Tuesday, the state added 9,693 new cases and 30 deaths statewide, recording 215,988 total cases and 2,957 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The state’s vaccination rate remains unchanged at 53%.

Montana Department of Health and Human Services officials reported 174 cases of omicron in the state as of Jan. 11. The strain is now the dominant one in the state, and is present in over half of Montana’s local and tribal jurisdictions.

The explosion of new cases has not yet translated to large increases in hospitalizations or deaths, but that data tends to lag a couple of weeks behind a surge in new cases.

Barrett Hospital had one person hospitalized with COVID and was 28% full as of the most recent statewide hospitalization report. Facilities in Carter and Flathead counties were reporting over 90% full; hospitals in Cascade and Lewis and Clark counties were reporting 100% full.

Since April, 83% of hospitalizations and 79% of deaths from COVID were in unvaccinated residents, according to DPHHS data. Since Nov. 13, 2021, 80% of hospitalizations and 77% of deaths from COVID were in unvaccinated individuals.

Beaverhead County added 36 cases in the past week. The majority of the new cases were in people in their 20s, followed by those in their 30s and 40s. New cases were counted in people aged 0-79. As of Tuesday, the county had 56 active and 1,706 total cases tallied. The vaccination rate in the county has stalled at 55%.

There have been more than 65.1 million COVID cases and over 847,500 deaths recorded nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nationwide vaccination rate is 62.9%.