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COVID-19 cases rise in younger people as vaccination in the county slows

Health department able to store Pfizer vaccine, need for testing high


Last updated 5/24/2021 at 11:40am

In a COVID-19 update Friday Hill County Public Health Director and Health Officer Kim Berg said only 36 percent of Hill County’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated, down by one percent since the last update two weeks ago.

Berg said because the Pfizer vaccine recently obtained approval for use in people 12 years and older, the eligible population of the county has jumped from about 12,000 to 13,256. This has resulted in the percentage of vaccinated people eligible in the county falling a percentage point.

She said the storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine also recently changed, which will allow the department to store some of it for a limited time without the ultra-cold storage previously required.

She said the department hopes to get its hands on some of the Pfizer vaccine soon, but in the meantime have been working with Rocky Boy Health Center which brought their mobile clinic to Havre last week, and vaccinated 29 people in the 12 to 15 age range.

Hill County Board of Health Member Erica McKeon-Hanson thanked for Rocky Boy for their help and Berg echoed the sentiment.

The health department for the Fort Belknap Indian Community also brought Pfizer vaccine to Havre last week in conjunction with the Northern Montana Health Care flu clinic and also has been providing the vaccine in conjunction with Blaine County Health Department.

The Hill County Health Department scaled back its vaccination clinics last month to account for the slowdown in demand for the vaccine, now offering the vaccine on the third Tuesday of every month, with the last one seeing 19 attendees.

The next clinic will be June 15.

Berg also said the county has seen a rise in cases in people 30 years and younger, most of whom are presenting atypical symptoms.

She said this recent group of young people aren’t losing their sense of taste or smell, one of the telltale signs of COVID-19, and instead are having more intense chest congestion which they often mistake for bad allergies early on.

She said this shift in symptoms is cause for more caution for people who think they might be sick.

“People need to really pay attention to that and get themselves tested if they are not feeling well and don’t wait until they loose their taste or smell because we’re not really seeing that,” she said.

Berg also made mention of three people in the county who had COVID-19 at some point, then got it again, as well as two people who were fully vaccinated but caught it.

She said it isn’t unusual that a relative handful of vaccinated people can still be infected, as no vaccine is 100 percent effective, nor is reinfection unheard of, but it should be a sign that precautions should still be taken.

“It just goes to show that we still need to use those efforts that we have in place: social distancing, wearing a mask or face covering when you are not able to social distance, washing your hands frequently, staying home when you’re sick. It’s still out there and just because you’ve had it is not a guarantee that you won’t get it again,” she said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that getting vaccinated greatly reduces the chance of getting COVID-19, and that some evidence shows that vaccinated people who catch the disease, known as breakthrough cases, may have less severe cases of it.

Berg said the county has also seen five cases that have been confirmed to be COVID-19 variants including three of the B.1.429 variant, one of the B.1.427 variant and one of the B.1.526.1 variant.

CDC classifies the first two as “variants of concern,” meaning, “there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g.,  increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.”

The third is only classified as a “variant of interest” as laboratory studies suggest specific monoclonal antibody treatments may be less effective for treating cases of COVID-19 caused by this variant.

Berg said as of 5 p.m. Thursday the county had 5 active cases and one hospitalization with 41 people in quarantine.

A health department update Friday said no new confirmed cases were reported that day and the next update would be released today.

The next COVID-19 update will be June 4 at 1 p.m.


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