COVID-19 Drive-Thru Testing, Bozeman Health

Kelly Froelich and Quinn Krause, specimen collectors and processors, take samples at the COVID-19 testing site on Dec. 18 at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

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The delta variant of coronavirus, a more transmissible strain that is quickly becoming dominant in the U.S., has arrived in Gallatin County.

Two cases of the variant were reported in Gallatin County on Wednesday by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Safety.

“We know that the delta variant is becoming the dominant variant in other parts of the country and spreading concerningly fast, which may lead to additional cases here associated with the delta variant or other variants,” Gallatin City-County Public Health Officer Lori Christenson said in an email.

The delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as a “variant of concern,” accounts for an estimated 51% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

The variant has increased transmissibility, could potentially reduce the efficacy of antibodies from previous infections or vaccines and the efficacy of treatments once infected, according to the CDC.

“(Variants are) especially concerning for those who remain unvaccinated and should be one of the motivating factors to consider when making a decision about vaccination,” Christenson said.

There have been 50 recorded cases of the delta variant in Montana, and 572 of the alpha variant, according to DPHHS.

In total, the state has seen 1,316 cases of COVID-19 strains of concern and interest out of a total 114,102 COVID-19 cases.

Of that, Gallatin County accounts for 52 of those cases. Of the variants of concern 37 are alpha, two are delta and two are gamma. Of variants of interest in the county, eight are epsilon, one is the eta strain and two are the iota variant.

The state has reported 383 confirmed breakthrough cases, where a person fully vaccinated got COVID-19. Those cases included 40 hospitalizations and seven deaths.

An analysis of 91 breakthrough cases, where a person fully vaccinated got COVID-19, showed that 92% were variants of concern or interest, according to DPHHS. Data shows that the majority of people who are fully vaccinated should have protection against the strains.

Vaccination rates in Gallatin County have stagnated in recent months and fell short of a goal, set in part by President Joe Biden, of reaching a 70% vaccination rate by July 4.

“We may see a surge in cases due to a more contagious variant, like the delta variant, especially this fall if our vaccination rates continue to lag behind the target of 70% of eligible individuals with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine,” Christenson said. “Especially in the youngest age groups.”

Older age groups in the county are far exceeding the 70% threshold, while younger people are falling behind despite the health department’s effort to vaccinate children and young adults.

As of June 18, the vaccination rate for those over 70 was nearing 90%, while it hovered at 34% for those ages 12-17 and was 51% for people 18-29, according to DPHHS’ most recently available data.

According to the Gallatin City-County Health Department, 62% of the eligible population in the county has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of June 28. Everyone 12 and older is eligible.

More than 53,000 people have received both doses of the vaccine, or 54% of the eligible population.

Gallatin County ranks fifth in the state for vaccination rates, behind Missoula, Silver Bow, Deer Lodge and Lewis and Clark counties.

“One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and the community from COVID-19 including the variant strains, is to get a vaccine,” Christenson said.

Cases in the county have continued to remain low. As of Thursday, the 7-day rolling average of daily cases was 2 cases per 100,000 residents.

That marks a slight increase from 1.2 cases per 100,000 the week prior, according to the health department’s weekly report.

As of Friday, Gallatin County had a total of 13 active cases, up from a week ago when the county had seven.

The state had 440 active cases and 47 hospitalizations Friday, according to DPHHS.

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

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