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A Gallatin County man died from COVID-19 this week, marking the 64th death since the start of the pandemic.

The man in his 60s died at a county hospital. In a statement, Gallatin City-County Public Health Officer Lori Christenson offered condolences to the man’s family and friends.

“This is a sad and unfortunate reminder that COVID-19 is still a dangerous virus to many people in our communities,” said Christenson. “We continue to recommend everyone take precautions.”

The news of the death — the first county death reported since May — comes as Gallatin County faces an increasing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

As of Friday, the county had 161 active cases and 10 people were in the hospital.

The state had 3,472 active cases, up from 2,659 the previous Friday. Over the past seven days, 25 Montanans have died due to COVID-19.

In total, the state has seen 1,755 deaths since the start of the pandemic. As of Friday, 200 people were hospitalized statewide.

The percentage of tests that returned a positive result increased from the week prior, from a 7-day rolling average of 6.5% last week to 6.9% on Tuesday, according to the health department’s weekly report.

Kallie Kujawa, the incident command lead for Bozeman Health, said Friday during a press conference that there continues to be sufficient testing available in the county.

About 80% of the Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital and Big Sky Medical Center’s critical care beds were full as of Friday, while 74% of the non-critical care beds at both hospitals were full, according to the county report.

Across the state hospitals have begun to fill up with COVID-19 patients, according to Department of Public Health and Human Services. Two of the state’s 10 largest hospitals, Benefis Hospital in Great Falls and St. Vincent Health Care in Billings, reported having more than 90% of their hospital beds filled.

Gallatin County is still experiencing “high” community transmission rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends that everyone, vaccinated or not, wears a mask in indoor public spaces in communities experiencing substantial or high transmission.

A county must have a weekly cumulative of 100 or more cases per 100,000 people to be considered “high” transmission. As of Wednesday, Gallatin County had a 145 cases per 100,000 residents, a nearly 11% increase from the previous week, according to the CDC.

Since July 30, the county health department has recommended again wearing masks in indoor public spaces for both vaccinated and not vaccinated people, following the CDC guidelines.

As of Sunday, 67% of the eligible population — anyone 12 years and older — in Gallatin County has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, 49% of Montanans have been fully vaccinated.

Young adults, teens and children continue to have the lowest vaccination rates in the county.

Only 32% of children aged 12 to 17 and 46% of people aged 18 to 29 had been fully vaccinated as of Sunday.

Dr. Pepper Henyon, a pediatrician with Bozeman Health, said that it was time for children to get a vaccine.

Children aged 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. No vaccine has yet been approved for children younger than 12 years old.

Children are more likely to contract COVID-19 with the delta variant, a more contagious strain of COVID-19 that is now the dominant variant across Montana and the U.S., Henyon said.

“We’re seeing more children around the country getting infected and needing to be hospitalized,” Henyon said “It seems like a tremendous number of kids are struggling — those young enough they can’t be vaccinated or kids who have not been vaccinated.”

Keeping children in school is important, especially for children’s mental health, said Lauren Wilson the vice president of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics during a press conference Thursday with many Montana health leaders.

“We have lots of data from last year that schools that put into place saw very little threat of COVID within school walls,” Wilson said. “That means strategies like wearing masks, reporting symptoms and staying home when sick, improving ventilation and getting adults vaccinated.”

The state health department said Wednesday that immunocompromised Montanans could receive a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, to boost immunity.

An eligible person can receive a third shot at any vaccine site in Gallatin County and at most pharmacies. A list of vaccination clinics and providers can be found at healthygallatin.org.

The U.S. Health Department also said on Wednesday that all vaccinated individuals who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a third booster shot as the vaccines’ efficacy wanes over time. People should receive a booster shot about eight months after being fully vaccinated. Administration of those booster shots could begin toward the end of September.

Kujawa said that vaccine rollout would probably look similar to the county’s first vaccine rollout plan.

“We’ll follow all the latest guidance, but we can expect that it will perhaps look a lot like it did before with the massive immunization sessions and our partnerships with MSU, and the health department and now all the other pharmacies,” Kujawa said.

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

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