Face masks (Anna Shvets/Pexels)
COVID-19 numbers are climbing in Montana.
The state reported nearly 2,000 new cases this week, but with at-home testing and self-reporting, the number may be higher. On Friday, there were 2,123 active cases in the state and 11 additional deaths were reported in the last week, according to state data. Hospitalizations also rose to 71 from 56 a week ago. A total of 3,434 Montanans have died from COVID-19.
“We are definitely seeing an uptick. I think it’s also important to remember that the numbers are only the reported numbers ,but there are people who are positive and not testing or testing at home and not self-reporting, so not only are we seeing an increase in cases we know, the actual amount of cases is somewhere between a little higher to somewhere much higher,” said D’Shane Barnett, Missoula City-County Health Department Health Officer.
Between May 1 and June 9, the seven-day average of new cases rose from 70 to 225, according to New York Times data. While cases are climbing, vaccination rates have remained stagnant for months. On Friday, 55% of eligible Montanans were fully vaccinated, less than the national average.
The driving force behind the uptick in cases is a sublineage of the omicron variant, which is more transmissible but luckily less severe, Barnett said.
There are 14 Montana counties with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designation of having high transmission levels, which comes with the recommendation that people mask indoors. Gallatin County reported the most new cases with 424.
Lori Christenson, the city-county health officer in Gallatin County, attributed that to changing behaviors and the more transmissible variant.
“I would consider that this is a much more contagious variant, so we are definitely seeing that play out in different households and different communities,” she said. “And people are spending more time close together and are wearing masks less indoors.”
Gallatin County, which is considered a high transmission county, is hamstrung when it comes to being able to implement public health mitigation efforts after a laws passed during the last legislative session limited the power of local health departments.
“Right now, because we do have our COVID-19 community level is indicated as high, based on that recommendation, we are recommending that individuals regardless of vaccination status are wearing masks indoors,” Christenson said.
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