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Five more Gallatin County residents have died due to complications from COVID-19.

The five deaths bring the county total to 78. Fourteen of those deaths have occurred since August.

A man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s both died the week of Oct. 3 at assisted living facilities, according to the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

The three other deaths were found during a routine data reconciliation by the state’s Office of Vital Records, Lori Christenson, public health officer for the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said during a virtual press conference Friday.

Two of the deaths, a woman and man, both in their 60s, were Gallatin County residents who died out of state. The third death was a woman in her 80s who died at a local assisted living facility. The health department was notified of their deaths Friday.

Nationally, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined. And while Gallatin County saw a 22% decrease in average cases this week, Christenson said it doesn’t paint the full picture of transmission in the county.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Christenson said.

With weather turning colder and people going inside, Christenson said preventative measures to curb the infection rate is vital.

“It remains really important we continue to wear masks in indoor settings, especially since we are experiencing high transmission,” Christenson said.

The county is still seeing high community transmission at a rate about four times what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as “high transmission” with about 464 cumulative cases per 100,000 residents this week.

Since late summer, the county has been seeing increasingly high case counts and hospitalizations. For example, during the last three months the county has added more cases than during the previous five months combined.

From August to October, the county added a little more than 3,900 cases. It added 3,600 between February and August.

The county’s percent positive rate — the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of all people — is still high.

As of Tuesday, the percent positivity was at 12.2%. The World Health Organization recommends a test positivity rate below 5% as a benchmark that adequate testing is being done.

Health officials also use the rate to monitor the levels of community transmission in the county.

Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s COVID-19 incident command lead, said Deaconess Hospital is still seeing “high numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.”

Deaconess Hospital had 16 COVID-19 patients at the hospital on Friday, all requiring critical care, Kujawa said. Eleven of those patients were in the critical care unit while five of the patients needing critical care were being housed in the medical and surgical units.

The critical care unit was at 90%, the medical unit at 97% and the surgical unit at 125% capacity, Kujawa said.

The surgical unit was over capacity because some non-surgical patients were being cared for there.

Kujawa said that all critical care COVID-19 patients who needed ventilation in the month of September were unvaccinated, although Kujawa didn’t know exactly how many patients that was.

A county study conducted in September that analyzed cases and hospitalizations from April through September found that nine in 10 people who wind up in the hospital from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

That mirrored a statewide study showing that unvaccinated people are five times more likely to be hospitalized and three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those fully vaccinated.

“The latest science proves that COVID-19 vaccines prevent severe illness,” Kujawa said Friday.

The state had 477 hospitalizations on Friday, down from a record number of patients with 510 hospitalizations Wednesday.

The majority of people who were hospitalized are people older than 65, accounting for about 47% of hospitalizations, according to state data that analyzed hospitalizations from April through October.

People aged 45 to 64 accounted for roughly 35% of hospitalizations, while people 18 to 44 made up 17%. The remainder were children aged 17 and younger.

Since April, 85% of Montanans who were hospitalized and 78% of those who died were unvaccinated, according to DPHHS.

Montana had 11,821 active cases as of Friday. So far, 2,128 Montanans have died of complications related to COVID-19, of those deaths 34 were reported this week.

The counties leading Montana with case counts are Yellowstone, Missoula, Flathead and Cascade counties.

Montana remains one of the hotspots in the country with one of the lowest vaccination rates and highest hospitalization rates.

Montana ranked second highest in the U.S., behind Alaska, for a weekly average of new cases per 100,000 people, with 576.5.

About 49% of Montana’s eligible population — everyone 12 years and older — was fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. That’s behind the national vaccination rate of 56.7%.

About 61% of eligible Gallatin County residents were fully vaccinated as of Friday. Gallatin County ranked fourth highest in the state for vaccination rates, behind Missoula, Silver Bow and Deer Lodge counties.

Kujawa said Bozeman Health was preparing to offer the low-dose booster shots of the Moderna vaccine as soon as it gets full CDC approval.

A booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine was approved in late September. Bozeman Health has been holding mass vaccination clinics for the third shot — although people may go to get a first or second Pfizer shot too — at Deaconess Hospital since late September.

Information on vaccination clinics for first, second or booster shots can be found at healthygallatin.com or by calling the county COVID-19 hotline at 406-548-0123.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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