Cascade County adds 448 new COVID cases this week

Updated 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11 with information on the federal team at Benefis.

Cascade County added 448 new COVID cases over the last week, bringing the cumulative total to 15,985 cases, according to the weekly update from the City-County Health Department.

This week’s case rate, or average of daily new cases over seven days, is 78.7 per 100,000, according to CCHD.

GFPS changes COVID policy; Benefis requiring vaccine for employees under federal rule

That’s up again over last week’s rate of 64.3 per 100,000, but lower that the rate had been for several weeks.

The positivity rate has come down to 13.1 percent, according to CCHD. Last week, it was 15.4 percent.

According to CCHD, there were seven new COVID related deaths over the last week.

COVID case rates comes down this week in Cascade County

There were 96 new breakthrough cases over the last week, bringing the total since February to 1,115, according to CCHD.

Breakthrough cases are those when a fully immunized person contracts COVID. A person is considered fully vaccinated when they receive the full series of the vaccines, which is two shots for Moderna and Pfizer and one dose for Johnson and Johnson.

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As of Nov. 8, there have been 76,778 doses of the vaccine administered in the county and 34,941 people, or 51 percent of the eligible population, have been fully immunized, according to the state.

As of Nov. 8, there were 31 people hospitalized with COVID, according to the hospital, and of those, five were vaccinated. Of those hospitalized, six were in the ICU and six were on ventilators, all of whom were unvaccinated, according to the hospital.

According to the state, two COVID patients were hospitalized at the Great Falls Clinic as of Nov. 8.

On Nov. 11, Benefis said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had deployed a team of 28 medical professionals from its National Disaster Medical System to help safely care for patients at Benefis Health System. The team is now up and running at the hospital and supporting the surge in patients, according to Benefis. The federal team includes physicians, advanced healthcare practitioners, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, a respiratory therapist, and safety, logistics and administrative support specialists. NDMS personnel normally deploy for up to 14 days, according to Benefis.

On Nov. 8, the Great Falls Public Schools board voted to amend their COVID policies, giving the district more flexibility for determining when masks were required and other health protocols.

As of Nov. 5, there were 54 active COVID cases within the district.

GFPS requiring masks for all students, staff due to high COVID rates

Currently, the district is exempt from the federal vaccine mandate for companies with 100 employees or more, Moore said. He said district staff had looked into it and the Montana School Boards Association send out guidance indicating Montana is currently exempt from that mandate.

The mandate also doesn’t currently apply to local governments such as the City of Great Falls and Cascade County.

Jeff Hindoien, city attorney, told The Electric that the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard does not apply to state and local government workers in Montana, as Montana does not have a state OSHA plan.

He said his understanding is that the mandate applies to state and local governments in the 26 states and two territories that do have an approved state OSHA plan.

A separate vaccine requirement for healthcare workers does apply to Benefis Health System.

Kaci Husted, spokeswoman for Benefis said that the rules applies to those who receive funding the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which Benefis does.

She said that about 85 percent of employees were already vaccinated or had some kind of deferral.

The federal rule requires that heathcare workers have at least one dose of the vaccine by Dec. 5.

Husted said that because Benefis is required to comply, they will require employees to be vaccinated and if they don’t meet the deadline, won’t be able to work at Benefis after that point.

At the Great Falls Clinic, CEO Wayne Gillis, said in a statement that “we are working to gather all the details around all the possible exemptions so our entire team will have every possible opportunity to make the very best decision for them personally.”