Cascade County’s COVID cases increasing

The county added more than 300 cases in the last week and a half, including 56 on Aug. 13.

The cumulative total is now 10,159 and of those, 402 are currently active, according to the state map. That puts the county at the second highest number of active cases in the state, after Flathead County with 555, but Ben Spencer of the Cascade County City-County Health Department told The Electric earlier this week that the active cases is somewhat misleading since staff are prioritizing new case investigations before closing out recovered cases.

As of Aug. 11, the case rate was 39.86 per 100,000. The case rate is the average of daily new cases for the previous seven days and is calculated on Wednesdays.

On Aug. 4, the rate was 20.7 per 100,000.

Benefis asking community to vaccinate, wear masks as hospitalization numbers rise

The peak of local cases was November 2020 and the case rate was 83 per 100,000.

On July 14, the case rate was 7 per 100,000.

The positivity rate was 9.8 percent, according to the weekly update from CCHD.

Last week, 87.7 percent of the new cases were unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, and 12.3 and were fully-vaccinated, according to CCHD.

“It is true that ‘fully-vaccinated’ vs. ‘unvaccinated or not fully-vaccinated’ is probably a more accurate distinction. We follow the CDC’s standard for being fully-vaccinated, for purposes of consistency when comparing data being reported across many jurisdictions. The vaccines were reviewed for the emergency use authorizations based upon their effective rates in people who were fully-vaccinated under that standard,” Spencer told The Electric.

Spencer said that they’d also like to have data on COVID cases and hospitalization in partially vaccinated people but it would be time consuming and only one or two people at CCHD have the ability to compile that type of data for now.

“We just aren’t able to pull those staff away from prioritizing investigation and management of the surging cases at this time,” he said.

There were 28 new breakthrough cases, bringing the total to 95. Breakthrough cases are those in which person who is fully vaccinated contracts COVID-19. A person is considered fully vaccinated once two weeks have elapsed since receiving the final dose of their vaccine.

Superintendent recommends returning to school with mask recommendation, no mandate; GFPS board to vote later

There were 10 new variant cases confirmed in the county over the last week, all Delta, according to CCHD. That brings the total of variant cases to 111 as of Aug. 11. According to state data, there have been 43 confirmed Delta cases in the county.

The state lab at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services conducts genetic sequencing to determine variants.

“When you take a sample for a COVID test (like a nasal swab), those samples aren’t just thrown away afterwards. Some of them get sent to the state-run lab and undergo full genetic sequencing to determine what mutations are present. So you can’t just go to a pharmacy and request a Delta test, but if you get a standard PCR COVID test it might be selected for subsequent variant sequencing,” according to CCHD.

As of July 30, according to CCHD, there were four confirmed unvaccinated reinfections since the agency started tracking that in early July. We’ll update that number when we get the new count.

As of Aug. 9, there were 14 COVID and 188 non-COVID patients hospitalized at Benefis, leaving 38 beds available, according to the weekly state report. There were two COVID and 18 non-COVID patients in the ICU, leaving one bed available, according to the state report.

State reports most COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients

At Great Falls Clinic, there’s two COVID and 10 non-COVID patients hospitalized, leaving 24 beds available, according to state data.

Here are the hospitalizations by age group from the first week of June through Aug. 10. There were two additional hospitalizations of juveniles in the county that aren’t reflected in these numbers because they were not Cascade County residents, according to CCHD.

  • 0-9: 1
  • 9-19: 0
  • 20-29: 1
  • 30-39: 3
  • 40-49: 4
  • 50-59: 4
  • 60-69: 13
  • 70-79: 5
  • 80-89: 7
  • 90-99: 4

From May 2 to July 31, there were 57 total cases in people age 0-9, and 137 cases age 10-19, according to CCHD.

Benefis Health System reopened their COVID floor this month and earlier this week asked the community to wear masks and get vaccinated as their hospitalization numbers rise.

In Cascade County, there have been 61,311 doses of the vaccine administered and 30,662 people fully immunized, or 44 percent of the eligible population, according to the Aug. 9 state update.

Earlier this week, Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore recommended to the school board that they open schools Aug. 25 with no mask requirement but a strong encouragement to use masks.

The board meets on Aug. 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the district office to vote regarding a mask policy for this school year. An emergency policy adopted last year includes a mask requirement and is still in effect unless the board votes to change it.

This week, Missoula County Public Schools voted to adopt a mask mandate for the first six weeks of the school year and then will revisit the issue.

Helena Public Schools also adopted a mask policy for the upcoming school year for Pre-K through eighth grade.

Billings Public Schools amended their policy to give the superintendent discretion on whether masks are required.

Bozeman’s school board meets Aug. 16 to discuss their mask policy.