COVID surge continues in the area


Last updated 8/24/2021 at 12:10pm

The delta variant-driven surge of COVID-19 continues across the U.S. and this part of Montana is no exception, with 23 new cases being reported in Hill County over the weekend, one of the most dramatic jumps since last year, before the emergency-use authorization of any vaccines.

This brings the county to 82 active cases with two hospitalizations. Blaine County now has 22 active cases with nine new cases confirmed over the weekend.

The state tracking map shows Liberty County has 11 active cases with two new cases and Chouteau has three active cases with one new case.

For the past 10 days Hill County has been adding 10 or more cases a day, and for the last couple months the rate of new cases has been increasing especially among younger people which the delta variant appears to be more dangerous to.

The state added over 600 new cases Monday and 720 more today.

The state map this morning listed 3,899 active cases with 239 hospitalizations.

Some counties are seeing more than 100 cases a day.

The map this morning reported 166 new cases in Yellowstone County, which has 639 active cases, and 136 in Flathead County, with 690 cases.

The number of new cases in Cascade County dropped to 24 this morning, but it has 664 active cases.

The state has 3,899 active cases and 239 active hospitalizations.

Montana has 1,768 COVID-19-related deaths since the first confirmed cases in March 2020.

While cases are most common among the unvaccinated, who make up almost 90 percent of hospitalizations in Montana, breakthrough cases remain common including in Hill County where a vaccinated staff member at Northern Montana Care Center recently tested positive, necessitating that the facility's outbreak status to continue for the next 14 days.

Hill County Public Health Director and Health Officer Kim Berg said the 11 breakthrough cases in Hill County tended to exhibit less extreme symptoms and recover more quickly.

Blaine County Public Health Nurse Jana McPherson-Hauer said much the same of the breakthrough cases in her jurisdiction.

"Breakthrough cases report more mild symptoms that are shorter in duration than cases in unvaccinated individuals," McPherson-Hauer said, "We are following the guidance of the CDC and encouraging all people to wear masks to indoor public places during times of substantial or high community transmission. It is another important tool we can easily use to slow the spread."

Berg's email said, due to the circulation of the delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is at least twice as contagious at the original strain, even fully vaccinated people should mask up in areas with significant community transmission, with McPherson-Hauer making a similar recommendation for Blaine County.

The delta variant is much more likely to be transmitted by people who are vaccinated than previous strains, leading to the recommendation for everyone to mask up regardless of vaccination status.

Currently the CDC's data tracker lists Hill and Blaine counties, along with the vast majority of the state, as an area of high transmission.

The Montana Nurses Association has recommended mask wearing in indoor public spaces s well.

"Bringing back masks for vaccinated people, especially while indoors, reduces the risk that a person with a breakthrough infection will infect an unvaccinated person, who remains at a much higher risk of serious illness or death," MNA CEO Vicky Byrd said in a press release. "While it is impossible to know who is vaccinated and who is not, let's take care of each other and our state by wearing masks."

She said masks, hand washing, and social distancing remain the easiest, most non-invasive methods to help stop the spread of the virus and asking people who are not vaccinated, and people who are vaccinated, to wear a mask while indoors in the public is the way to keep the state open.

She asked people to encourage their family and friends to get vaccinated, wear a mask, and minimize the risk of transmission especially now that the delta variant has raised the risk for children and is straining hospitals that are struggling to find nurses, beds and oxygen.

"MNA is concerned about the many variants and encourages all Montanans to get vaccinated who can do so," she said. 

She said MNA will continue to ask Gov. Greg Gianforte, Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras and the state's elected officials to lead the people through this pandemic with respect and support for public health professions by endorsing their recommendations and supporting all of their health care providers and stakeholders who use science and evidence-based data to provide the best public health care for all citizens.

Berg and McPherson-Hauer said it's important for more people to get vaccinated, and the Federal Food and Drug Administration's recent full approval Monday of the Pfizer vaccine, which was approved for emergency use last year.

"Hearing the news of Full FDA authorization for the Pfizer vaccine is very exciting," Berg said. "This news just further supports our cause and the fact that these vaccines are safe and effective and the best chance we have at putting a stop to this pandemic. We highly recommend that all who can get vaccinated do so."

McPherson-Hauer echoed Berg's excitement and said the approval further supports the importance of getting vaccinated.

"It further proves what we have been saying for months- that the vaccine is safe, effective and a very powerful tool in our fight against COVID-19," she said.

In Hill County, vaccinations are available through Bullhook Community Health Center, 406-395-4305; the Hill County Health Department, 406-400-2415; Northern Montana Health Care's Specialty Medical Center at 406-265-7831 or it's family Family Medical Center at 406-265-5408; Western Drug Pharmacy,406-265-9601; Gary & Leo's Pharmacy, which takes walk-ins, Walmart and the Rocky Boy Health Center, 406-395-1655.

Vaccinations are available in Blaine County through the Blaine County Health Department, 406-357-2345, and Fort Belknap Health Center.

Vaccine is available in Chouteau County at the Chouteau County Health Department, 406-622-3771, and Big Sandy Pharmacy at 406-378-5588.

Liberty County Health Department has vaccine available. People can call 759-5517.


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