With more COVID-19 cases come more vaccinations, new report shows

More Montanans are seeking out their first COVID-19 dose

By: - August 5, 2021 7:28 pm

COVID-19 vaccine is stored at -80 degrees celsius in the pharmacy at Roseland Community Hospital on Dec. 18, 2020 in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A pair of new COVID-19 reports show the delta variant is firmly taking hold as the most prevalent strain of the virus in Montana, with cases and hospitalization on the rise across the state.

The data released by the Department of Public Health and Human Services matches national trends, with a large majority of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths occurring in unvaccinated people.

As cases and variants continue to grow, some places in other parts of the country are reverting back to mask mandates. Still, the push for vaccinations remains the focal point of the state’s message in Montana, and numbers show it may be working.

After declining in June and early July, the number of people seeking out vaccines is rising. For the week ending July 30 compared to the week ending July 23, there was an 18 percent increase in individuals receiving their first dose, according to an analysis of COVID-19 case numbers conducted and released by DPPHS.

From June 5 to July 30, 89 percent of Montanans hospitalized for the virus had not received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the interim COVID report. Vaccinated people account for about 3.2 percent of all new cases, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation — meaning Montana is tied for fifth-highest rate of breakthrough cases in the country.

“This data illustrates just how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is in preventing serious illness when you consider how far we’ve come since the vaccine first became available,” said DPHHS Director Adam Meier in a press release about the new report.

As of Thursday, 445,438, or about 48 percent, of Montanans have been fully vaccinated, and there were 1,851 active cases and 135 hospitalizations — the highest numbers since late winter. Flathead County leads the state with 453 active cases.

Read more: As COVID cases rise and healthcare professionals call for precautions, Montana is left with few viable options

Around 840 vaccinated Montanans have tested positive for the virus since February 15, with 72 hospitalizations and 17 deaths of the vaccinated population. But of the 842, many were elderly and/or suffered from an underlying condition that would make it more likely they would be infected, said Magdalena Scott, supervisor of DPHH’s Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section.

Since February, of 1,473 positive COVID-19 tests sampled from Montana, 1,162 were identified as a variant. While the alpha variant was the most dominant early on, the delta variant has spread quickly and is now the dominant strain since June. Last week, DPHHS reported 62 additional variants, and 49 of them were the delta strain, according to the report.

“We have seen delta increases over the course of June and July. The UK alpha variant has really tapered off,” Scott said.

As the virus spread threatens a full-throttled comeback, more Montanans are seeking out vaccinations, but uncertainties around mask requirements remain.

On July 27,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines recommending fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission.

In Montana, 18 counties are considered areas of high transmission by the CDC, and 16 are substantial areas.

While some counties in the state have urged their residents to mask up, counties cannot legally institute a formal mask mandate due to legislation passed this session limiting the ability of both the governor and local health officials to put into place mandatory public health measures.

“We share CDC guidance for COVID control. We share that guidance, and then they can use that guidance as they see fit,” Scott said.

Former State Medical Officer Gregory Holzman said masks are a tool in the toolbox, but vaccination remains the most effective defense. Holzman led the the state during the onset of the pandemic until April.

“The more it spreads, the more variants we get, and the virus is going to continue to look for ways to survive. If the people that could get vaccinated would get vaccinated, we could get this under control fairly quickly,” he said.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .