Cascade County case rate continues to climb; Benefis seeking National Guard support

Cascade County added 572 new COVID-19 cases over the last week, according to the Sept. 22 weekly update from the City-County Health Department. Of the new cases, 157 were in people 19 and younger.

The county added 132 new cases on Sept. 22, according to the state dashboard, bringing the cumulative total to 12,553 and of those, 1,162 are currently listed as active.

CCHD has said that the active case number can be misleading since “when we lack staffing to deal with the case numbers (like right now), we focus on opening new cases and contacting people with new infections. That takes priority over closing older cases, so the older cases will remain open as ‘active’ cases. The new case rates are a much more informative number of what’s happening. And the state is currently automatically closing our open case investigations of more than 10 days, regardless of info or circumstances.”

County COVID case rate up this week with 506 new cases

Of the new cases this week, 86.7 percent were unvaccinated and 13.3 percent were vaccinated, according to CCHD.

Here are the age breakdowns of the new cases:

Age % Vaccinated (in total population) New Cases % of Total New Cases
0 to 9 0.0% 60 10.5%
10 to 19 24.0% 97 17.0%
20 to 29 23.0% 93 16.3%
30 to 39 36.0% 86 15.0%
40 to 49 53.0% 84 14.7%
50 to 59 53.0% 56 9.8%
60 to 69 72.0% 52 9.1%
70 to 79 79.0% 30 5.2%
80+ 72.0% 14 2.4%

There have been 204 COVID-19 related deaths in the county, including five new deaths over the last week, according to CCHD.

The case rate is now 100.4 per 100,000. The weekly case rate is the average of daily new cases over the last seven days. The positivity rate is down slightly at 12.7 percent, from last week’s 13.9 percent, and close to the 12.5 and 12.4 percent rates of the previous two weeks.

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The case rate is up from last week’s case rate of 88.9 per 100,000. The previous week it was 61.6 and the week before it was 79.7.

At the end of August, the case rate was 50.04 per 100,000 and the previous week it had been 55.31 percent.

On Aug. 11, the case rate was 39.86 per 100,000.

Cascade County COVID numbers still high

On Aug. 4, it was 20.7 per 100,000.

The peak of local cases was November 2020 and the case rate was 227 per 100,000, though it was partly that high due to a reporting backlog.

That came down to 98 per 100,000 on Dec. 1, 2020.

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Trisha Gardner, county health officer, told City Commissioners during their Sept. 21 meeting that most new cases have been among the unvaccinated and they’re seeking less severe illness in those who are vaccinated.

“We’re seeing very high spread at the moment,” she said.

The vaccination percentages are of the entire population in that age group, not just the new COVID cases, according to CCHD.

Gardner said that most of the new cases are among those 40 and younger.

This week’s state report on hospitalization shows 35 COVID and 125 non-COVID patients, with no beds available. The report shows nine COVID and 12 non-COVID patients in the ICU leaving no beds available, as of Sept. 20.

Kaci Husted, Benefis Health System spokeswoman, said that the hospital is “still extremely busy” and did request Montana National Guard assistance for 20 Guardsmen.

Gov. Greg Gianforte approved the request on Sept. 22 for the full 20 personnel requested.

“On behalf of a grateful state, I thank the men and women of the Montana National Guard who are stepping up within their communities to serve their neighbors,” Gianforte said in a release. “As we face a surge in new cases and hospitalizations, the best long-term solution to this crisis is for Montanans to talk with their doctor or pharmacist and get vaccinated. While we will not mandate vaccination in Montana, vaccines are safe, they work, and they can save your life.”

According to Gianforte’s office, the 20 Guardsmen will begin assisting Benefis next weekend, bringing the total number of Guard assisting in the state’s COVID-19 response to 107. The Guardsmen will support staffing with non-medical ICU assistance, environmental services, patient data entry and COVID testing.

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At Great Falls Clinic, there five COVID and nine non-COVID patients.

As of Sept. 20, there have been 66,748 total vaccine doses administered and 32,973, or 48 percent of the eligible population, were considered fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks have elapsed since their final dose of the vaccine.

There were 76 new breakthrough cases over the last week, bringing the total since February to 502. Breakthrough cases are those who test positive for COVID after being fully vaccinated.

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There have been breakthrough cases of all three vaccine types, according to CCHD.

There were 11 new variant cases this week, bringing that total since February to 204.

As of Sept. 17, there were 161 active COVID cases associated with Great Falls Public Schools and as of that date, according to the state update, 34 percent of people 12-17 in Cascade County had at least one dose of the vaccine.

The numbers in the GFPS weekly update, on Fridays, differed from a state report that included cases through Sept. 10.

The district’s data is the number of confirmed COVID positive cases in the district for employees or students. That information is validated by school nurses and shares with CCHD, according to Superintendent Tom Moore.

Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said that there’s a reporting delay from the county to the state as “we do have to get the information about schools entered into the disease reporting system.”

Gardner said that the district has “the most timely and current data necessary for determining mitigation strategies such as closures.”