County has small COVID-19 case spike; walk-ins now accepted at vaccine clinic at Expo Park

Cascade County’s COVID-19 case rate rose over the last week to 10.5 per 100,000 as of April 7.

That’s up for 4 per 100,000 the previous week, according to Trisha Gardner, county health officer.

She told the City-County Board of Health during their April 7 regular meeting that there “doesn’t appear to be any one certain event or large gathering that this has been due to.”

Vaccine appointments still available, last week for community clinic signups

There was no discussion among board members about instituting any COVID-19 restrictions.

Gardner told the board that there are currently two people hospitalized with COVID-19 who had been fully vaccinated.

She said the county has sent their tests off to be checked for variates, but said that the individuals also had several comorbidities that could have impacted the vaccine’s efficacy for them.

Vaccine appointments still available in Cascade County, everyone over 16 eligible

As of April 5, there have been 37,463 total doses administered and 15,006 people were fully vaccinated, Gardner told the board. She said the number of fully vaccinated people will start climbing now that the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine is becoming more widely available in the county.

She said that as of this week, more than 50 percent of eligible people in the county had received at least their first dose.

That is, Gardner said, “encouraging news.”

Some employers in the community, such as Benefis Health System are moving toward requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.

As The Electric reported last week, “Benefis is requiring the COVID-19 vaccine starting May 1. All employees will receive their second dose by July 1,” according to Whitney Bania, spokesperson for Benefis.

Deferral requests will be considered until May 1 for medical, medical delay or religious reasons, Bania told The Electric.

County mask requirement, event size restrictions lifted; variant strains confirmed in Montana

“The reasoning, as explained to all employees, is that our patients deserve to know they are receiving care in the safest manner possible,” Bania said. “Employees should ask HR about any concerns they have about the policy.”

Some employees have raised concern about the requirement. As of April 7, no challenges had been filed in district court in Cascade County regarding the requirement.

Great Falls Clinic is not mandating the vaccine.

“At this time, we have a universal masking policy in place so all employees are required to wear a mask and socially distance at all times. Until the CDC removes the universal masking recommendation, this will likely remain in place until further notice. At the time the CDC removes that recommendation, we will likely require those that are non-covid vaccinated (this is what we do for staff that decline the flu shot during flu season) to continue wearing a mask but again, we are in preliminary discussions as we believe this is still pretty far out,” Samantha Shinaberger, spokesperson for GFC told The Electric. “We are still highly encouraging our staff to get the covid vaccination.”

Alluvion is also offering and encouraging the vaccine to employees but it not requiring it.

“The masking requirement has remained in place for patients, staff, and visitors of our organization and we are proud to continue with CDC recommended safeguards to ensure the ongoing health of our patients, staff, and community,” Tanya Houston, of Alluvion, told The Electric.

County mask requirement, event size restrictions lifted; variant strains confirmed in Montana

This is the last week that the community vaccine clinics will schedule appointments for the first dose of the vaccine. The clinics are a partnership of the Cascade County City-County Health Department, Benefis Health System, Great Falls Clinic and Alluvion Health.

Appointments are open to everyone over 16 and there are still slots available through the online portal for appointments this week.

CCHD said April 7 that walkins are now being accepted at the community clinic in the Family Living Center at Montana Expo Park from 2-6 p.m. April 7; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 8; and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. on April 9.

COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expanding to all 16 and older April 1; state finds COVID-19 as third leading cause of death for 2020

Those who have received their first dose already through the community clinic will still return to the fairgrounds for their second dose, Gardner said. The community clinic will administer the second doses to all who received their first dose at the clinic, but then they’ll shut down that operation and the end of the month.

The Electric has asked for data regarding how many people are returning for their second shot and CCHD said they were working on gathering that information.

She said that they’re exploring the possibility of drive through vaccine clinics in the future for the younger population, but CCHD, Alluvion and multiple pharmacies in town will continue offering vaccine appointments.

For details on where to get a COVID-19 vaccine after appointments for the clinic are filled, go to https://vaccinefinder.org/search/.

Gardner said they didn’t get a large of a response as anticipated for the current round of appointment slots, which opened last week, so it was “hard to justify” continuing to operate at that scale.

The county added six new cases on April 7, bringing the county’s total to 8,495, according to the state dashboard, and of those 48 are currently active.

Gardner said that of the active cases, 54 percent were people under 30 and many of those were in the 20-29 age bracket.

Gardner told the health board that there will be a spike in the number of cases reported by the state on April 8 for the county since more cases from other reporting places weren’t reported properly at the right time.

According to CCHD, 184 additional cases will post on Thursday that were not previously included.