County’s COVID case rate holds steady, More variant cases confirmed

Cascade County added 65 new cases over the last week, as of the June 16 weekly update from the City-County Health Department.

The county has 85 active cases as of June 17, the second highest in the state after Yellowstone County.

The county added 16 cases on June 17, bringing the cumulative total to 9,416.

Cascade County’s case rate continuing the drop, active cases down; vaccine clinic Friday and Saturday

As of June 16, the case rate was 11 per 100,000, maintaining the same rate as last week. The case rate is calculated on Wednesdays and is the average of daily new cases for the previous seven days.

So far in the county, 55,873 total vaccine doses have been administered and 27,586, or 40 percent, have been fully immunized, meaning two weeks have elapsed since the person received the full course of their vaccine.

Over the last week, 592 people were vaccinated this week, according to CCHD.

Case rate dropping, county still leads state in active cases

There were no new breakthrough cases over the last week, according to CCHD.

Breakthrough cases are those who have been fully vaccinated but then contract COVID-19. To date, there have been 20 breakthrough cases in the county and of those two were hospitalized and one died, according to CCHD.

According to the monthly state epidemiological analysis, 398,402 Montanans have completed the COVID-19 vaccine series as of June 4 and as of then, there had been 198 cases of breakthrough infection have been reported in Montana, which is 1.3 percent of newly identified cases since the state began monitoring them Feb. 15. Of those, 22 were hospitalized and two have died.

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Another 29 variant cases were confirmed, bringing the county’s total to 45.

According to CCHD, the state lab that conducts variant testing has increased its testing capacity and more samples are now able to be tested for variant strains.

“Almost all of the newly-confirmed variant cases were the Alpha strain (B.1.1.7). That strain has shown to be significantly easier to spread and results in more severe illness – however, the vaccines are still highly protective against it,” according to CCHD.

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A handful of readers asked The Electric about vaccines so we asked local health providers what they’d seen and have asked the state for more data that we’ll report once we have it.

Erin Merchant, spokesperson for Alluvion Health, said that “locally, we have seen routine adverse reactions, nothing surprising.”

Heidi LePard, Great Falls Clinic infection preventionist, said that most vaccine clinics will document immediate reactions in the VAERS system at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

COVID rate increasing in Cascade County, 222 cases active [May 2021] 

She said that she hadn’t had of any of their employees or others come back to tell her they had to report immediate reactions into the system.

“I’m a little cynical; and many of these ‘different’ reactions have tended to come from anti-vaccine groups that are very vocal on social media. I will first see them posted there; then the anti-vax people I know will repost, and then tell ‘stories’ of people that have had these reactions,” LePard said in an email.

She said the VAERS reports are voluntary and unsubstantiated. She gave an example of a friend talking of deaths related to the COVID vaccine and referenced a VAERS report that LePard said was a terminal cancer patient in residential hospice who died three weeks after being vaccinated.

Some readers have told stories of hair loss related to the vaccine and The Electric asked specifically about that reaction.

County COVID-19 rate up slightly; several variants, breakthrough cases identified [May 2021]

LePard said that hair loss can be caused by a number of factors. She said there is literature about people recovering from COVID have had hair loss and also literature that some people have had hair loss after vaccinations, but that was an old study that didn’t related to COVID, and that the study is inconclusive since hair loss occurs in all people and is cyclical.

She said some people are stressed about getting the vaccine, which could cause hair loss after being vaccinated.

“The vaccine itself will create an immune response, so essentially ‘a stressor’ to the body, which theoretically could increase hair loss,” LePard wrote in her email.

“Have I seen reports of this from reliable sources? Nope. I see many reports of hair loss after having COID-19 illness, not vaccine. Again, my cynical self thinks that the anti-vax people have taken this and applied to the vaccine,” LePard said in an email.

She referred to this fact sheet from the American Academy of Dermatology Association regarding COVID and hair loss as good explanation of the factors.

As of June 14, there are two COVID and 192 non-COVID patients hospitalized at Benefis Health System, leaving 46 beds available, according to the weekly state report. There were two COVID and 15 non-COVID patients in the ICU, leaving four beds available.

At Great Falls Clinic, there were 15 non-COVID patients hospitalized, leaving 21 beds available.

To find out more about the vaccine or see local availability, check or contact CCHD to schedule an appointment.