Big Sky Roundup

Deaths ‘staggering’ in Yellowstone County; COVID-19 ‘worst’ since pandemic started in Missoula

By: - September 20, 2021 4:38 pm

(Illustration by Getty Images)

Ten more people died of COVID-19 in Montana over the weekend, including seven from Yellowstone County, and Missoula County continued to break COVID-19 records.

Among those who died in Yellowstone County were two women in their 50s, a woman in her 60s, a man in his 20s, a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s and a man in his 90s.

According to a news release, 20 Yellowstone County residents have died of COVID-19 illness in the first 19 days of September. That is more county people lost to COVID-19 in such a short time since January. The Yellowstone County death toll is now 320.

“That is a staggering number … 320 people is more than the population of Belfry, or Roberts or Reed Point … Every one of these lives matters,” said John Felton, Yellowstone County health officer and RiverStone Health CEO and president, in a Monday news release announcing the deaths.  “I implore every Yellowstone County resident to get vaccinated because that is the safest, surest way to curtail this pandemic. Wear a mask indoors in public places; avoid crowds as much as you can, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly and use hand sanitizer.”

On Monday, Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare reported 101 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 illness, including 85 people who were not fully vaccinated. The hospitals had 35 COVID-19 patients in ICU and 23 on ventilators, according to the release.

Meanwhile in Missoula County, health officers reported that on Monday, the county’s hospitalization record, active case record and incidence rate record were all broken for the second week in a row.

“In Missoula County, 50 individuals are hospitalized with COVID-19, 1,386 residents currently have the virus and the average daily new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days reached a new height of 89,” a news release from the city-county health department said.

Statewide 1,619 more cases were reported over the weekend, bringing the seven-day average new case count to 1,258 — the highest since Nov. 20, 2020.

Missoula City-County health officials say this latest surge is showing no signs of slowing down.

“This is the absolute worst we have seen it since the pandemic started,” explained COVID-19 Incident Commander Cindy Farr in the release. “We cannot continue in this direction for the safety of the community.”

Health officials in the county are upset with the current situation given the vaccine’s proven effectiveness, the release said.

“The data are clear, and the data show this latest wave is hitting communities with low vaccination levels. We’re proud that Missoula County has the highest vaccination rate in the state of Montana, but in the grand scheme of things, the vaccination rate is nowhere near a level that would be considered herd immunity,” said Health Officer D’Shane Barnett in the release.

Missoula has a vaccination rate of 64 percent — compared to 52 percent statewide — but health officials say a rate of more than 75 percent is necessary for herd immunity.

In addition to getting vaccinated, the Missoula health department urged residents to wear a mask in public, wash their hands and keep their social circles small.

“We cannot get past this pandemic if it continues to be about pro-vaccine people versus anti-vaccine people,” said Barnett. “You either want to see this virus win, or you want to see our community win. We can and will beat this if enough people get vaccinated.”

Upcoming free vaccine opportunities in Yellowstone County for everyone 12 and older to receive first and second vaccine shots are:

Montana COVID-19 tracker

  • Wednesday, Sept. 22, noon-2 p.m., Billings Public Library Community Room.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 22, 4-6 p.m., Lockwood High School, community room.
  • Thursday, Sept. 23, 11 a.m.  – 1 p.m., RiverStone Health, 123 S. 27th St., in the four-story building.
  • Sept. 29, noon-2 p.m., Billings Public Library Community Room.
  • Sept. 30, 2-6 p.m. RiverStone Health Clinic, Main Street in Worden.
  • Oct. 5, noon-2 p.m., Billings Public Library Community Room.
  • Oct. 7, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market, South Park.
  • Oct. 12, noon-2 p.m., Billings Public Library Community Room.
  • Oct. 20, noon-2 p.m. Billings Public Library Community Room.
  • Oct. 27, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., Billings Public Library Community Room.

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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 .