Big Sky Roundup

Hospitals hit 90 percent capacity, Lewis and Clark County reports 100 COVID-19 deaths

By: - September 22, 2021 5:39 pm

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

The Lewis and Clark County Health Department announced Wednesday that 100 county residents have died from COVID-19 complications and urged residents to increase public health precautions to slow the spread of infections.

“Due to the recent uptick in cases in our community, Lewis and Clark Public Health urges residents and local businesses to act now to help stem impacts on our local hospital, health centers, and schools,” said a news release from the health department. “As of today, 100 lives have been lost due to COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, eight of Montana’s 10 largest hospitals reported being at more than 70 percent capacity on Monday, with four of the eight reporting more than 90 percent capacity, according to a report Wednesday from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The four were Benefis in Great Falls, Bozeman Health Deaconess, Kalispell Regional Medical Center and St. Peter’s Health in Helena.

The release from Lewis and Clark’s health department highlighted the following data that “tells a worsening story from COVID-19 in our county.”

  • In the last two weeks, the county had a 42% increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases, compared to the previous 14-days.
  • In August 2020, there were 67 total positive cases countywide, compared to 615 cases reported in August 2021.
  • About 20% of cases reported so far this month are from those aged under 18.
  • This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an 11% increase in confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions compared to the previous week.
  • Most of the individuals in the hospital with serious illness are unvaccinated.

 “Cases continue to soar towards last year’s highest case counts and our local hospital reports a Crisis Standard of Care, citing a lack of resources, beds, and staff. In addition, wastewater samples from Helena and East Helena point to a sustained amount of disease in the community, which is evidence there is more virus in our area than is confirmed through testing,” the release said.

Statewide there were 1,326 new cases reported on Wednesday bringing the seven-day average for new cases to 1,265 — the highest mark since the record-high average of 1,293 reported on Nov. 20, 2020. The state also reported 13 new deaths, 10,296 active cases and 395 active hospitalizations on Wednesday.

With 34,687 residents fully vaccinated, Lewis and Clark County has a 53 percent vaccination rate among the eligible population, six percent higher than the statewide average, but well below the roughly 70 to 85 percent vaccination rate health officials say is necessary for herd immunity.

“Cases are headed up, hospital beds are in short supply, and deaths are beginning to climb once again,” said department Director Drenda Niemann in the release. “We feel like a broken record, but every individual in the community has the power to slow and stop the spread of this virus. We all must act now.”

The department said community members can slow the spread of the infection by getting vaccinated, avoiding large group gatherings, wearing a mask inside, social distancing, and staying home when experiencing COVID-19 symptoms unless to get tested or go to medical appointments.

Also on Wednesday, RiverStone Health in Yellowstone reported another death in the county, bringing the county-wide total to 322 including 22 in the last month. The release also painted a continuing grim picture for hospitals in the county with 109 COVID-19 inpatients, including 32 in ICU and 22 on ventilators on Wednesday at Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare. The release said 88 of the 109 inpatients are not fully vaccinated.

Across the state, 377 patients were hospitalized from COVID-19, according to a hospital occupancy report put together and released by the state Department of Public Health and Human Services that shows a snapshot of hospital occupancy from Monday. Of the 377 patients, 105 were in the ICU and 55 were on ventilators. The report showed only 712 available staffed beds out of 2,410 total.

“Seven of eight indicators on the Yellowstone County COVID-19 dashboard are red, signifying critical concerns for outpacing capacity of public health in case investigation and follow-up, healthcare system, respiratory cases coming into hospital emergency
departments, positive test rate, new case rate and regional case rate,” the release from RiverStone Health said.

The latest Yellowstone County pandemic victim was a woman in her 60s who died Wednesday at a Billings hospital. She had been fully vaccinated and had underlying medical conditions, according to the release.

“Words of sympathy fall short of expressing the tremendous sorrow caused by these continuing tragedies,” said John Felton, Yellowstone County health officer and RiverStone Health CEO and president in the release. “To stop this virus, we must take all evidenced-based precautions, starting with vaccinations for everyone age 12 and older.”

RiverStone Health has scheduled these free, walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinics for
people age 12 and older:

  • 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 .