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Slower COVID-19 spread in county still too high

 

Last updated 11/23/2020 at 12:27pm

Hill County Public Health Director and Health Officer Kim Larson said the county has seen improvement in its rate of new COVID-19 cases, but it is still far above the Hill County Health Department's goal.

The week of Nov. 9 saw an average of 97 new cases per day per 100,000 residents in the county, Larson said during the weekly COVID-19 update Friday, and it was exciting to see the number under 100.

However, Larson said, the health department's goal is 50 per day per 100,000 and the average for first four days of last week was 113 per day per 100,000.

People need to keep working to slow the spread, she added.

"Stay vigilant," she said. "We all know that COVID is not going away, but helping us slow the spread of the virus is extremely important. We need out hospital and our health care system to be able to care for the people of Hill County and the surrounding counties, and we can't do that as our numbers continue to rise."

She said she worries about what is going to happen after Thanksgiving and she encouraged people to observe health guidelines, stay home when feeling ill, and limit their contacts.

"With the holiday's coming up, I'm a little nervous that we're going to see those numbers turn around and go back up again," Larson said.

She said her department was dealing with 222 active cases and was keeping track of 241 people in quarantine as of Friday's meeting.

She also said she's decided to let her staff have Thanksgiving off to spend with their families, and as a result contacts may have to wait another day to be contacted if they're waiting to hear from the department.

She said work continues with contact tracing, with more and more applications for contact tracers coming in, and the department is continuing to cooperate with Bullhook Community Health Center with testing efforts.

Larson said this partnership is going well, and has freed up the flu clinic at Northern Montana Health Care.

Bullhook Community Health Center CEO Kyndra Hall agreed that the partnership is going well.

She also said she's recently seen an improvement in test turnaround, with most results coming back within a day most of the time, and two days at the most.

Larson also talked about Gov. Steve Bullock's recent public health mandate, which overlaps heavily with her own recent health order.

The only thing the state-wide mandate changed for Hill County was that restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos had to close their doors by 10 p.m., she said.

Larson said local law enforcement has received the order and will have their eyes open for establishments open past 10 p.m., and all such establishments have been made aware of the order, which went into effect Friday.

Planning vaccine distribution

She said the health department is also working with the state on a vaccine distribution plan, figuring out a method of rural distribution.

She said the Pfizer vaccine will be tricky to get to the area because it needs to be held at minus 80 degrees Celsius, and the health department doesn't have a refrigerator that cold.

It also comes in minimum shipments of 1,000, which can be impractical for a lot of areas with state health officials worried that breaking the shipments up might interrupt the cold chain, rendering the vaccine ineffective.

However, Larson said, another vaccine being considered for approval only needs to be kept frozen with a minimum shipment size of 100, which will be far easier to distribute in rural communities.

She said, based on the information she has now, it seems like targeted distribution for people like health care workers and long-term care facilities' residents and staff may begin at the end of this year.

She said both vaccines are a two-shot series with the second round provided three to four weeks later after the original dose.

During the call community member Will Rawn raised some concerns about people in the community not wearing masks as consistently as they should.

Hill County Attorney Karen Alley said some people have conditions that prevent them from wearing them.

Rawn said he still sees a lot of people not wearing masks and said while some may have conditions that exempt them, that cannot possibly be the case for all of them.

"The people who these exceptions actually apply to, I mean they're probably more common than a virgin birth, but not a heck of a lot more," he said.

Larson said public health is doing its best to protect the community, but they realize that not everyone is going to comply.

She said she believes the majority of businesses are doing the right thing and enforcing health orders as they can, but some people are just never going to do it.

"I know it's frustrating," she said. "It's frustrating for me as well."

Larson said The Hill County Health Board is considering moving to create a community-wide COVID-19 coalition that will invite community members to give input on how the health department can best protect them.

Larson said she realizes a lot of information is out there, and the understanding of how masks work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has evolved as research has come in, but everyone should know they do work and they need to wear them.

The next COVID-19 update will be Friday at 1 p.m.

 
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