U.S. Surgeon General in Montana, encourages COVID-19 vaccine; Montana cases declining, though active cases still high in Cascade County

Gov. Steve Bullock said during a Dec. 10 press conference that case numbers were declining since the state implemented stricter health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

He said that new positive cases have begun declining while testing has remained steady.

Bullock said that statewide, the positivity rate of those who were tested for COVID-19 was 20 percent in November but has now dropped to 14 percent.

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In Cascade County, the rate was 22 percent as of Nov. 25. As of Dec. 2, the county’s positivity rate was 18.8 percent, according to the Cascade County City-County Health Department.

CCHD officials said Dec. 9 that they’d been informed that testing numbers had increased over the last few days, which was about 8-10 days post Thanksgiving and an anticipated increase.

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On Dec. 10, the county added 56 new cases, bringing the total to 5,770 cases. Of those, 2,627 are currently active, the second highest in the state, according to the state map.

CCHD said that number of positive cases is still high in Cascade County.

Great Falls Public Schools had 54 active cases as of Dec. 9.

Bullock said that testing increased in September and was steady through October. By November, state and contracted labs were processing about 37,000 samples weekly on average.

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Bullock said that statewide, hospitalizations had increased through October to a high in mid-November and fluctuated in late November.

In Great Falls, Benefis Health System has 190 non-COVID and 35 COVID patients, with 15 beds available, according to Dec. 10 state data.

Of those, 14 non-COVID and four COVID patients were in the ICU, leaving three beds available. Two non-COVID and three COVID patients are on ventilators, with 21 available.

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Statewide, Bullock said, “we are seeing signs that give us some optimism,” and the state is scheduled to begin receiving the Pfizer vaccine next week.

Healthcare workers will be first in line to receive the vaccine.

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The U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Adm. Jerome Adams joined Bullock in the press conference and said that he was trouble to hear that nearly 200 Montana healthcare workers were isolated or quarantined.

Adams said that is was also concerning that most Montana hospitals were near or at capacity, meaning that it leaves few beds for people who get in car wrecks, have heart attacks or other medical emergencies. He said that during previous surges, most were regional so resources could be pulled from other areas, but the recent national surge meant that no resources were available since everyone is being hit at once.

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Bullock said that there are currently 284 contracted medical staff deployed throughout the state.

Adams is in Montana to open a surge testing site at Fort Peck. He said that the pandemic has hit everyone, but some groups particularly hard, including Native Americans. He said that seven percent of Montana’s population is Native Americans, but they account for 19-20 percent of the COVID-19 cases and 30 percent of COVID-19 deaths.

“This virus is incredibly, incredibly unforgiving,” Adams said. “It shows how this virus has preyed on people” with preexisting conditions but also social conditions.

He said that the Trump administration officials also wanted to highlight that this is “precarious time” with record cases for nine consecutive weeks and encouraged Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available.

The F.D.A.’s vaccine advisory panel voted in favor of emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 on Dec. 10. The agency typically follows the advice of that panel, according to The Washington Post.

Adams said that he expected mitigation measures to continue through middle of 2021 even with the vaccine since it will take time to get enough people vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus.