County COVID case numbers hold below 25 per 100k threshold for second week; GFPS looking at spectator limits for sporting events

Cascade County’s case rate for COVID-19 has dropped below 25 per 100,000 for two consecutive weeks, halfway through the number of weeks required before the local health restrictions would be lifted.

The case rate, which is the average of new daily positive cases, for the week ending Feb. 3 is 21 per 100,000, Cascade County Health Office Trisha Gardner told the county health board during their Feb. 3 meeting.

The rate for the week ending Jan. 27 was 24.5 percent.

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In January, the county health board adjusted its local COVID-19 restrictions, continuing limitations on operational times and capacity for restaurants, bars and the like, as well as limiting gathering sizes.

Those restrictions remain in place until the county’s case rate is 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks.

On Feb. 3, the county added 31 new cases for a total of 7,364 and of those, 304 are active, according to the state map.

GFPS COVID-19 numbers holding steady; some spectator limits adjusted

Gardner told the board that the positivity rate is now 6.4 percent, down from 12.4 percent two weeks prior.

Once it hits five percent, nursing homes can reduce their COVID testing of residents and employees from twice weekly to once a week, Gardner said.

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Gardner said that a number of local nursing homes had been in outbreak status for several months, but as of Feb. 3, the county was down to one.

“That is a beautiful thing,” Gardner told the board.

The Cascade County City-County Health Department is continuing mass vaccination clinics and the next round of appointment signups opens 9 a.m. Feb. 4.

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Gardner said that the private pharmacies operating under a separate federal initiative have vaccinated residents at most local nursing homes and long term care facilities.

About 19,000 doses of the vaccine weren’t used nationwide through that program and have been reallocated to Montana. Gardner said that represents about a week’s worth of doses statewide.

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Gardner said the Montana National Guard is assisting with the local vaccination clinics and assisted with getting the waiting list established.

She said that CCHD has enough people on the waiting list to fill an entire week’s worth of vaccination clinics and they’ll be holding that the week after next.

As of Feb. 1, 8,350 doses of the vaccine had been administered in Cascade County and 1,948 people were fully immunized, according to the state dashboard.

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Gardner said there was an issue at the Jan. 27 meeting with some people having to wait outside due a glitch in the scheduling program that had extra people scheduled. She said that staff learned of the glitch late the night before and were able to figure out the dosages and get all the extra people vaccinated.

That was part of the idea for scheduling the appointments, to avoid long times and people waiting outside, Gardner said.

CCHD staff said that they were using the waiting list to backfill appointments in the case of no shows or cancellations so as not to waste any doses of the vaccine.

Cascade County moves into next phase of vaccination plan next week

The dedicated phone line for the vaccination waiting list is still open. Gardner said there were some issues last week when it started because the system was overwhelmed with calls that it caused system problems for not only CCHD’s phone lines, but for the City of Great Falls and the private phone provider.

During the meeting, Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore, also a health board member, updated the board that there were 11 active cases within the district.

He said that GFPS is also in discussions with other AA districts regarding statewide competitions and spectator limitations.

CCHD opens waiting list for those 70 to call, email any time

Moore said that district has been looking at incrementally increasing the number of spectators at indoor sporting events. At Great Falls High, the capacity is about 3,500, he said, and they’ve been operating with a max of 250 people.

Right now, the AA districts have agreed that athletes can invite two people to stay within the 250 limits.

Those officials discussed on Feb. 3 looking at increasing that to four people per athlete, beginning next week, Moore said.

The state basketball tournament is scheduled to be held at Montana ExpoPark this spring and Moore said the district is working with the facility staff, CCHD and the high school association to finalize the COVID management plan though it’s all contingent on the COVID situation continuing to stabilize or decrease in case numbers.

County officials met on Feb. 2 to review the proposed budget for Montana ExpoPark and during that discussion indicated that they are planning to hold the Montana State Fair this July.