Cascade County COVID numbers continue to decline, lowest case rate since the summer

Cascade County added 115 new COVID cases over the last week, bringing the county’s cumulative total to 16,271, according to the City-County Health Department.

The county’s new case rate is 20.2 per 100,000, down from 29.3 per 100,000 from last week.

That’s the lowest case rate since July for the county. The case rate is the average of daily new cases over a seven day period and is calculated on Wednesdays.

The positivity rate is 10.2 percent, up slightly from 9.9 percent last week.

COVID vaccine boosters offered throughout Cascade County, case numbers dropped last week

There were three new COVID-related deaths, brining the county’s total to 268, according to CCHD.

Hospitalizations are declining, Trisha Gardner, county health officer told the Board of Health during their Dec. 1 meeting, but they did see a bump on Nov. 30.

She said that the hospitals are seeing quite a few respiratory illnesses, particularly RSV, and a health alert went out Nov. 30 regarding influenza in the state. None have yet been reported in the county, but “it’s just a matter of time before influenza hits Cascade County,” Gardner said.

She said they expect a rougher flu season this year than in the last few years.

Cascade County added 474 new COVID cases over last week

As of Nov. 29, there have been 80,876 doses of the vaccine administered and 35,555, or 47 percent of the eligible population, have been fully immunized, according to the state. The percentage has dropped a bit since the eligibility has expanded to children 5-11, but Gardner said only about 3 percent of children in that age group have been vaccinated so far.

There were 41 new breakthrough cases as of Nov. 24, bringing the total since February to 1,252, according to CCHD.

Cascade County adds 448 new COVID cases this week

Breakthrough cases are those in which a fully immunized person tests positive for COVID. A person is considered fully immunized when they have completed the initial series of the vaccine, which is two doses for Pfizer and Moderna and one for Johnson and Johnson.

As of Nov. 29, there were 10 COVID patients hospitalized at Benefis Health System, one of whom was vaccinated.

The hospital said Monday that “we are thankful to see our COVID-19 numbers continue to decline. Our lower COVID numbers have helped bring our current capacity below 100 percent for the first time in a long while, giving our hardworking healthcare heroes a much-needed break.”

Of those, three were in the ICU and three were on ventilators, none of whom were vaccinated, according to Benefis.

On Dec. 1, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services issued a statement regarding the federal rule requiring healthcare workers get the COVID vaccine.

“The Department of Public Health and Human Services is pleased that a federal court has issued an order granting a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of CMS’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, particularly in light of its legal shortcomings and the dire impact it would have on frontier states like Montana,” DPHHS Director Adam Meier said. “With the court’s decision, House Bill 702, which makes discrimination on the basis of vaccination status unlawful, remains the law in Montana. Thus, Montana health care facilities cannot require staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19. DPHHS continues to encourage all eligible Montanans to talk to their trusted, personal health care provider and get vaccinated.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued an interim final rule on Nov. 5, requiring COVID-19 vaccination of all eligible staff of health care facilities that participate in the Medicare or Medicaid programs. These health care facilities were required to ensure that all eligible staff receive the first dose of a 2-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a 1-dose COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6 and the second dose of a 2-dose vaccine by Jan. 4., unless they received a medical or religious exemption.

The State of Montana, along with a number of other states, challenged the CMS IFR in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on Nov. 15, according to DPHHS.

Earlier this week, the court granted a preliminary injunction, halting the rule.

In November, Benefis officials said they were requiring the vaccine for their employees due to the rule and that about 85 percent of employees had already been vaccinated.

The U.S. Department of Defense is requiring all military members be vaccinated and this week, the Associated Press reported that “National Guard members who refuse COVID-19 vaccination will be barred from federally funded drills and training required to maintain their Guard status.”