Cascade County COVID-19 case rate drops significantly, local restrictions likely to remain in place

Cascade County’s COVID-19 case rate has dropped significantly.

As of Dec. 30, the average new daily case rate for the previous week dropped to 25 per 100,000, according to Trisha Gardner, county health officer.

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The previous week it was 66 per 100,000.

In October, the county’s Board of Health voted to implement stricter COVID-19 restrictions that went into effect Nov. 1, including limiting capacity in bars, restaurants and other facilities to 50 percent, and limited events and gatherings to a maximum of 50 people.

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Those restrictions will remain in place until the county’s rate of average daily new cases reaches 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks under the local health board’s direction, regardless of changes the incoming governor Greg Gianforte might make, unless the health board changes its order.

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Gardner told The Electric that the county health board would be discussing next week what Gianforte might do regarding COVID-19 restrictions and whether the board wanted to make any changes to its own restrictions. Gardner said she could see the board adopting its own local mask requirement if Gianforte lifts the directives set by Gov. Steve Bullock.

State law allows local health boards and health officials to adopt more measures that are more strict than the state, but they cannot adopt more lenient measures.

When the health board adopted those measures, the rate was 64 per 100,000.

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The rate spiked throughout November to 227 per 100,000, which was partially due to backlogs in state reporting, and had been hovering between 88 and 100 per 100,000.

The county’s positivity rate, meaning the percentage of those who take the acute test and get a positive result, has also dropped and as of Dec. 16 was 14.9 percent, down from 22 percent at the end of November.

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Gardner said she “was pleasantly surprised with thanksgiving and “I hope to be as pleasantly surprised with Christmas and New Year’s.”

Cascade County added 36 cases Dec. 30, according to the state map, brining the county’s total to 6,642. Of those, 821 are currently active.

CCHD is currently hiring for a deputy health officer position, which is a reworked version of the former prevention services division manager.

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That position had always been essentially the defacto backup to the health officer, Gardner said, and since they were able to create a program manager position within that division, they wanted to formalize the backup health officer position with the revised job description and title.

That helps with succession planning, should anything incapacitate the health officer, she said.

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The position is still being funded with a blend of county tax revenues and grants, Gardner said.

The prevention services manager position has been vacant since Nov. 20.

The revised position requires a registered nurse, since it oversees other RNs at CCHD and the immunization position. That requirement had been taken out previously due to lack of applicants for the position, Gardner said.

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So far there’s been some interest in the position, Gardner said, but none have been RNs and “it’s a hard time to recruit in public health right now.”

Currently, CCHD is catching up on contact tracing as the case numbers come down and the department has better staffing levels, other than two public nurse vacancies.

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Gardner said their may be a need for more personnel in the near future as the COVID vaccination process opens to the public.

She said once the vaccine is available to the public, CCHD may offer mass clinics as it does with flu vaccines, but so far nothing has been scheduled. In that instance, CCHD would get help from medical professionals at the other healthcare providers in the community.