Cascade County crosses 1,000 total COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths; Benefis seeing rise in COVID-19 patients, opening additional units

The Cascade County City-County Health Department announced two additional COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the county’s total to 10.

These two individuals were a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s, both with underlying health conditions.

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“There are now two more families, two more groups of loved ones, grieving because of COVID-19, and here at CCHD we are mourning with them,” Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said in a release. “This is not controversial: we have community-wide transmission of COVID-19, and no one in our community is expendable. It is my hope that learning about yet more mourning neighbors will bring out the best in us; that it will bring us together to curb the spread of this disease. If we cultivate a strong sense of taking care of one another—if we become deeply aware that our personal actions can make or break local schools, businesses, and hospitals, and act accordingly—then we can get through this and prevent more deaths.”

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On Oct. 9, Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statement since Montana has had more than 200 COVID-19 related deaths and on Oct. 10, added 721 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 18,117.

“On the last day of July, we had lost 60 Montanans to COVID-19. Today, barely into October, over 200 Montanans have been taken from their families, friends, and communities. That is over a 230 percent increase in deaths in just over two months,” Bullock said. “Disregarding expert advice from state and health officials, as well as the pleas of our frontline health workers and neighbors, is leading us down this concerning path. We need to listen to our health care workers and our local public health officials. The path forward is simple if only Montanans follow the guidelines and restrictions we have in place. This is the path that will save lives, and it will keep our schools, our main street businesses, and our communities open and safe.”

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On Oct. 10, Cascade County added 28 new cases, bringing the county’s total to 1,038 cases. Of those, 596 are active, according to the state map.

As of Oct. 9, the total number of active cases associated with Great Falls Public Schools was 17.

As of Oct. 9, there were 47 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, according to Rayn Ginnaty, chief nursing officer and hospital chief operating officer at Benefis Health System.

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Earlier this week, Bullock and the state’s medical officials expressed concern over rising COVID hospitalization numbers and the capacity of the state’s healthcare facilities to handle the influx in COVID patients, as well as other types of hospitalizations, especially going into the fall and winter months when flu cases tend to rise.

The state is now releasing regular updates on hospital capacity and COVID-19 hospitalizations for facilities statewide.

Ginnaty said that capacity is a difficult number to give since the number of patients hospitalized is constantly in flux and that the hospital has contingency plans for surges in patients.

She said that when COVID-19 was moving into the U.S., Benefis’ leadership team met to start developing plans.

Those plans include opening additional units like Benefis has done in recent weeks when it opened a COVID unit in the main hospital and an additional unit on the west campus for the senior services residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

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“We are seeing larger numbers of patients requiring hospitalization than we did two and three months ago,” Ginnaty said.

But, she said that the hospital has to determine ways to treat anyone who needs care and that they don’t want to create panic if people think the hospital is full

“We don’t want anyone to not come to the hospital because they think there’s a capacity number when in reality we’re going to do everything to take really good care of them,” Ginnaty said.

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She said that regardless of people’s opinions of COVID-19, “from a healthcare perspective it is real and it is here.”

Masks, distancing and hand washing are the three steps they continue to encourage to help slow the spread and prevent the volume in hospitals from increasing at a rate that’s difficult to handle.

Ginnaty said that the hospital has internal triggers they’re monitoring to make changes if the number of COVID-19 patients starts to overwhelm their resources.

Limiting elective surgical cases would be one of those early steps, she said.

Ginnaty said officials from the large Montana hospitals are on a conference call daily discussing their numbers, resources and transferring patients as needed. She said they’re working together as the large hospitals and also working to support the critical access hospitals that may not have the same level of resources but are also facing increased COVID-19 patients.

“I still think that we have an opportunity to slow it down and utilize those things that we know are important from a health perspective: masking, social distancing and hand washing remain very critical,” Ginnaty said.