County COVID case rate climbing; mayor wants to return to Zoom meetings

The county added 315 new COVID-19 cases over the last week, bringing the total to 10,387, of which 558 are currently active, according to the Cascade County City-County Health Department’s weekly update.

There have been 194 total COVID-related deaths of county residents, according to CCHD.

The case rate for the last seven days is 55.31 per 100,000. The case rate is the average of daily new cases over the previous seven days and is calculated on Wednesdays.

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The most recent positivity rate is 13 percent. That rate typically lags a week behind but is calculated over a seven-day period.

According to CCHD, there were 42 new breakthrough cases over the last week, bringing the total to 137 cases. Breakthrough cases are those in which a fully vaccinated person contracts COVID. A person is considered fully vaccinated when two weeks have elapsed since their final dose of the vaccine.

Cascade County’s COVID cases increasing

There were 17 new variant cases over the last week, bringing the total to 128, according to CCHD.

As of Aug. 16, there had been 62,050 vaccine doses administered and 30,925 people, or 45 percent of the eligible population, were fully immunized, meaning two weeks have elapsed since their final dose of the vaccine, according to state data.

Over the last week, 263 people were vaccinated, according to CCHD.

According to state data, as of July 30, which was the most recent update, 48 percent of eligible residents in Cascade County had at least one dose of the vaccine. Among those 12-17 years old, 24 percent had at least one dose.

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Of the 94 cases reported by the state on Aug. 17, 23 of those were people under the age of 20, according to CCHD.

As of Aug. 11, the case rate in Cascade County was 39.86 per 100,000.

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

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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.

As of Aug. 16, according to state data, Benefis Health System had 25 COVID and 209 non-COVID patients, leaving six beds available and is now considered at capacity.

Two COVID and 17 non-COVID patients are in the ICU, leaving two beds available, according to the state data.

Great Falls Clinic has three COVID and 18 non-COVID patients, leaving 15 beds available.

During the Aug. 17 City Commission meeting, Mayor Bob Kelly said that other Montana hospitals were full and sending their COVID patients to Great Falls.

Samantha Shinaberger, spokeswoman for Great Falls Clinic, told The Electric that, “we have not received any transfers from other hospitals to the Great Falls Clinic for COVID patients.”

State reports most COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients

Whitney Bania, spokeswoman for Benefis said, “we are receiving patients from other hospitals, not necessarily COVID patients.”

Benefis said on Aug. 18 that with the surge in COVID cases, it is no longer able to offer travel testing for non-symptomatic people.

Testing for those with symptoms remains available for anyone at Benefis Walk-In Care, Benefis Northwest or Benefis Helena Northeast.

During the commission meeting, Kelly said he wanted to go back to Zoom meetings for commission work sessions and regular meetings due to the increase in local COVID cases.

“I don’t feel safe,” sitting in this room with the public, regardless of vaccination status, Kelly said. “I don’t want to compromise my health and I don’t want to compromise yours.”

COVID cases continuing to rise in Cascade County

Commissioner Mary Moe said she feels they’re creating an attractive nuisance by giving the impression public meetings in a space that doesn’t allow for distancing or other health protocols is safe for the public.

Commissioner Rick Tryon said he won’t be wearing a mask regardless of recommendations.

“I’m done wearing masks,” he said.

Cascade county adds 114 COVID cases over last week; variants increasing

He said he won’t wear them to commission meetings and if they’re mandated by the city in some way, “I’ll be the first to protest that.”

The Great Falls Public Schools board meets Aug. 19 to determine its mask policy for the start of the school year.