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By Tim Leeds 

Montana nearing 3,000 COVID-related deaths


Last updated 1/26/2022 at 12:09pm

As the omicron variant-driven surge of new COVID-19 cases continues, Montana is closing in on confirming 3,000 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began.

The state tracking map this morning reported 2,990 deaths, up three from Tuesday's report and 26 more than last Wednesday.

The map reported 3,072 new cases, the highest single-day total after Monday of this week, when the state listed 5,057 new cases from Friday trough Sunday.

The surge comes as federal vaccination mandates continue to change, with the Supreme Court allowing a mandate for health care workers in institutions that accept Medicare and Medicaid and overturned enforcement of a mandate on businesses of 100 employees or more having to have the employees vaccinate or test for COVID.

The Biden administration Tuesday withdrew its Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor requirement on businesses with 100 employees or more.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling with its liberal justices dissenting, called the plan to enforce the mandate a blunt instrument, and said did not have the authority to required workers to be vaccinated or else be tested weekly.

In the health care mandate, the Supreme Court allowed that almost all staff members of Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The court ruling specifically put a temporary stop on lower court rulings against the mandate, allowing it to be enforced as the case proceeds in lower courts, but legal experts say the Supreme Court's reasoning - that the rule "fits neatly within the language of the statute" authorizing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to impose conditions on the receipt of Medicare and Medicaid funds - will be followed by the lower courts.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services set out different sets of guidelines and dates for states with different laws regarding the requirement - some states already required health care workers be vaccinated - with the first phase having a Feb. 14 deadline in Montana, requiring a facility to have at least 80 percent of staff members who are not exempted vaccinated and a plan to reach 100 percent compliance within 60 days. Full compliance is required by April 14.

Impacting the care center but

visitation still allowed

Northern Montana Health Care Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Julianne LaSmith said they are dealing with a lot of issues right now, but are handling the situation well.

"We're trying to stay strong and will continue to place the needs of our patients and our community first," she said.

She said the care center has cases in staff members and some residents but is not ending visitation.

"Folks are being asked to screen at the doors as usual, mask up, and wash their hands," she said. "And, most importantly, stay away if they are experiencing any health issues. Our community is seeing a lot of flu, strep and (respiratory syncytial virus); so if a person is symptomatic, they should stay home."

Smith said Northern Montana Care Center is still offering COVID vaccines and boosters at its clinics, and the Flu Clinic is still open in an effort to keep possible COVID patients out of the clinics.

"This allows us to still be able to doctor the rest of our patients," she said.

She said testing supplies are OK there.

"After 22 months, we've gotten good at judging our supplies versus our demand and balancing it out," she said. "We're OK and have enough for our patients.

"There are other shortages in supplies ... as there are everywhere," she added. "Most of these are due to supply chain issues."

Numbers still going up in

north-central Montana

While the numbers in this part of the state are dwarfed by counties in other regions - Yellowstone County has 2,922 active cases and has had 485 deaths since the pandemic started, Gallatin County has 2,644 cases and 109 deaths and Missoula County has 2,277 cases and 199 deaths - new case numbers still are climbing here.

In its update Tuesday, Hill County Health Department reported 66 new cases in the county with three active hospitalizations and 71 deaths since the pandemic started.

Blaine County reported 47 new cases with 172 active and one case requiring hospitalizations in the county, which has seen 29 deaths.

The state tracking map this morning reported seven new cases in Liberty County, with 17 active, 341 total cases and two deaths.

It reported two new cases in Choueau County, with seven five active, 873 total and 12 deaths.

Health officials say vaccination is the best protection, including against the omicron variant. While the variant has a higher chance of a breakthrough infection than previous variants, the vaccination and boosters still greatly reduces the chance of becoming seriously ill or dying.

Other steps like wearing masks when among people in public places, regularly washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes and washing and disinfecting surfaces also are crucial to slowing the spread of the virus, health officials say.

But the key to slowing the spread and eventually stopping the pandemic is getting everyone vaccinated, health officials say.

Blaine County Health Department made an adjustment to its walk-in vaccination and booster service this week, it said in its update Tuesday.

Blaine County Health Department said it continues to offer first and second dose and booster dose walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations. This week only, its walk-in clinic will be Friday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m. at the health department at 420A Ohio Street in Chinook. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines available including pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds. 

People can call the Fort Belknap Health Center, public health nurse at 406-353-3250 and pharmacy at 406-353-3104, to schedule vaccinations and booster shots.

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.

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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