Bozeman Health

An ambulance pulls into the ambulance entrance of the Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.

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Five more Gallatin County residents have died due to complications related to COVID-19 as the county sees an increase in hospitalizations, cases and community transmission.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department said in a press release Friday that the deaths occurred between Aug. 13 and Aug. 27. The health department received the death certificates — attributing the deaths to COVID-19 — on Thursday.

Two people, a man in his 90s and a woman in her 80s, both died at nursing homes. A man in his 50s died of complications related to the disease at his home, and a man in his 50s and a man in his 40s both died at a county hospital.

“On behalf of the health department, we send our condolences to the families and friends of these individuals and our gratitude goes out to all the health care workers and staff who cared for them,” said Public Health Officer Lori Christenson.

Christenson said during a virtual press conference she would not release any additional information on the deceased, including their vaccination status, out of respect for their families.

The five deaths bring the countywide total to 69. In Montana, 1,811 people have died from the disease.

The news of the deaths comes as the county faces an increasing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, mirroring a statewide trend.

The state had 6,086 active cases, a 31% increase from the Friday before. The active case counts have more than doubled in the past two weeks, when the state had reported 3,473 active cases.

As of Friday, 266 people were hospitalized in the state. Gallatin County had 315 active cases — up from 228 last Friday — and 20 people were hospitalized.

The seven-day average number of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Gallatin County increased to 37 as of Wednesday, a 36% increase from the previous week, according to the health department’s weekly COVID-19 report.

For the first time since April, the county’s percent positivity rate — the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of all people tested — increased to 10%.

The test positivity rate helps public health officials monitor the levels of COVID-19 transmission and is a marker for whether enough tests are being done. Generally, public health experts say having a positivity rate above 10% indicates that more testing is needed.

“If you’re feeling sick, vaccinated or not, it’s important to speak to a healthcare provider and consider getting tested,” Christenson said. “Mild symptoms could be COVID positive.”

Several elementary, middle and high schools in the county had at least one COVID-19 case, according to the report. The Monforton School District had the most with eight active cases, which had prompted a move to remote learning for some grades this week. Montana State University had 49 active cases as of Thursday.

As the new school year begins, Christenson said the county is seeing five times the rate of community transmission now than at this time last year.

On Sept. 1, 2020, the county had 49 cases per 100,000 people over seven days. As of Sept. 1, 2021, the county had 242 cases per 100,000 people over seven days, she said.

“We are in a different type of a pandemic now, in terms of the delta variant,” she said.

Children aged 12 to 17 still have the lowest vaccination rates among the eligible population — everyone 12 years and older — in the county.

About 35% of children aged 12 to 17 and 47% of people aged 18 to 29 had been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 27, according to the county.

About 58% of the eligible population in Gallatin County had been fully vaccinated as of Friday. Overall, about 50% of Montanans have been fully vaccinated, according to DPHHS.

Kallie Kujawa, the COVID-19 incident command lead for Bozeman Health, said that 62 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in August.

Among those hospitalized with COVID-19 in August, the youngest was 19 years old. In July, Bozeman Health saw the first child hospitalized with COVID-19, Kujawa said.

Of the 62 hospitalized in August, only 12 were vaccinated. All of the patients in the ICU on ventilation were unvaccinated, Kujawa said.

A statewide snapshot of hospital bed capacity from the Department of Public Health and Human Services released Monday showed that Bozeman Health had reached more than 90% capacity, with just seven beds available — although actual hospital capacity varies daily.

“We are pleading for your help and partnership in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Kujawa said.

Health care staff are burnt out, Kujawa said.

“Every person at Bozeman Health cares for every single patient, regardless of vaccine status, with kindness and respect,” Kujawa said. “When this kindness and respect are not reciprocated it’s hurtful, harmful and extremely demoralizing.”

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

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