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By Tim Leeds 

Omicron hits Montana

Officials urge vaccination, boosters, mask-wearing as U.S. cases could hit a million a day

 

Last updated 12/21/2021 at 1:06pm

The variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 that is raging around the world and is becoming the dominant strain in the United States has officially hit Montana.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported Monday that two vaccinated residents of Gallatin County who had visited South Africa - the country that first reported the variant to World Health Organization - caught the omicron variant of the disease.

The two had mild symptoms that are improving are self-isolating, DPHHS said in its release.

"This is not a surprise, as nearly every other state has reported omicron cases in recent weeks," DPHHS Director Adam Meier said in the release. "We continue to urge all Montanans to use all available tools to stay healthy this winter, including getting your COVID-19 vaccine and booster and taking other measures to prevent the spread of the virus."

President Joe Biden was scheduled to address the country about omicron.

Services report that retiring National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins said over the weekend that the new variant could cause up to one million new cases a day in the United States.

A senior administration official said in a briefing that Biden today will emphasize that people who are among the vast majority of Americans who are fully vaccinated, and especially if they received a booster shot, they have a high degree of protection against severe illness.

"Because omicron spreads easily, we will see fully vaccinated people get COVID-19, but vaccinated people who get COVID will likely have no symptoms or mild symptoms," the official said. "Because of that strong protection, the president will tell the American people that if they are vaccinated and follow the process that we all know well, especially masking while traveling, they should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as they planned.

The official added that Biden will note that people who are unvaccinated are at high risk of getting sick. 

"This variant is highly transmissible," the official said, "and the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from COVID."

Officials also have noted that while the omicron variant may not generally cause as severe an illness in many cases, with the number of cases increasing by a huge amount, the number of hospitalizations also will increase dramatically, possibly overwhelming a U.S. health care system already under severe stress.

Centers for Disease Control notes that masking helps reduce the spread of the omicron variant as it does all variants. The virus is transmitted by moisture expelled on people's breath, and using masks reduces the moisture expelled by breathing, talking, or even coughing and sneezing - people also are urged to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing - and so reduces the spread of the virus.

To help reduce the spread of both the delta and omicron variants, the DPHHS release encouraged all Montanans to take the following steps to protect themselves from becoming infected with COVID-19, including variants like omicron:

• Get vaccinated and if eligible get a booster. People can find vaccine locations at http://covidvaccine.mt.gov .

• Eligible Montanans who haven't gotten vaccinated and still have questions should consult with their health care provider.

• People should take steps to help prevent the spread of the virus such as using face masks, physical distancing, practicing hand hygiene and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.

• People should get tested for COVID-19 when they feel sick or have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.

• People should stay home when they are sick.

For more information on the omicron variant, people can visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html.  

In Hill County, vaccinations and booster shots 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 its 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 406-395-4486.

The Blaine County Health Department, 406-357-2345, and the Fort Belknap Health Center, public health nurse 406-353-3250 and pharmacy at 406-353-3104, can schedule vaccinations and booster shots.

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

People can call Liberty County Health Department at 406-759-5517 to schedule a vaccination.

 

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