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As new cases rise, gridlock could delay COVID funds until fall - or longer


Last updated 6/3/2022 at 2:38pm

As numbers of new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to creep up - including in Montana - President Joe Biden's administration says the U.S. is headed for "a lot of unnecessary loss of life" if Congress fails to provide billions more dollars to brace for the pandemic's next wave.

Yet the quest for that money is in limbo, the latest victim of election-year gridlock that's stalled or killed a host of Democratic priorities.

That comes as numbers of new cases again are rising in this part of Montana, although hospitalizations, as of yet, remain low.

Hill County Health Department in its update this week reported 36 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the county in the previous week with 19 active cases and one hospitalization.

That follows a report of 11 newly confirmed cases in the previous week with three active cases and no hospitalizations at that time.

The county has had 74 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths.

This week, Blaine County Health Department reported 17 newly confirmed cases in the previous week with 15 active cases and no active hospitalizations. That follows a bigger surge in the previous week, with the department reporting 12 newly confirmed cases May 24 and 13 new cases and three recoveries confirmed May 25, leaving 42 active cases and no hospitalizations in the county at that time.

Blaine County has had 33 COVID-19-related deaths.

The state COVID tracking map's update last Friday - the weekly update today was not available by printing deadline this morning - listed two new cases in the previous week for Liberty County with two active cases and one new case in the previous week for Chouteau County with one active case.

Liberty County had had four deaths and Chouteau County had had 14 deaths.

In its report this week, the Blaine County Health Department warned that the number of cases are again increasing.

"Blaine County residents please be vigilant! COVID is not over," the report said. "Please wash your hands, cover your cough and sneezes, stay away from sick people, stay home when you're sick. All of these mitigation efforts will help control the spread of illness. Above all else, please be kind."

A top priority for U.S. health officials is making sure everyone who is not vaccinated gets vaccinated and those who are eligible for boosters get the boosters.

In the weekly update last Friday, the state tracking map said 55 percent of eligible Montanans were fully vaccinated.

The number of new confirmed cases peaked in January in Montana at more than 3,000 new cases a day. That dropped to new daily cases numbered in the 20s in April, but those numbers are again climbing.

The state map update last Friday listed 1,281 cases in the previous week, with 1,558 active cases 3,400 COVID-19-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

And health officials warn that the numbers of new cases confirmed in the nation, the highest since February, probably are much lower than the actual number, with some at-home testing probably not being reported and asymptomatic cases not being tested, with an influential modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle estimating in early May that only 13% of cases were being reported to U.S. health authorities.

The COVID money is needed quickly, officials say. Their warnings have come with over 1 million U.S. deaths from the disease and a fresh variant that daily is hospitalizing over 100,000 Americans and killing more than 300. Both numbers are rising.

President Joe Biden's appeal for funds for vaccines, testing and treatments has hit opposition from Republicans, who've fused the fight with the precarious politics of immigration. Congress is in recess, and the next steps are uncertain, despite admonitions from White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha of damaging consequences from "every day we wait."

Administration officials say they're running low on money to stock up on, or even begin to order, the latest vaccines, tests and treatments. Also lacking are funds to reimburse doctors treating uninsured patients and to help poor countries control the pandemic.

House and Senate Democrats have been wrangling over how to resolve the stalemate and even over which chamber should vote first. It's an open question whether they'll ever get the GOP votes they'll need to pull the legislation through the 50-50 Senate, and prospects in the narrowly divided House are unclear as well.


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