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The rate of COVID-19 infections in Gallatin County has now surpassed levels seen in January, mirroring a state and national trend of rising cases.

Cases in the county have been steadily increasing since late July and now match levels last seen during last winter’s wave, said Lori Christenson, Gallatin City-County’s public health officer, during a press conference Friday.

The rise in cases coincides with more hospitalizations and deaths related to the disease.

As of Friday, the seven-day average number of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Gallatin County increased 14% to 77 cases, according to the health department’s weekly COVID-19 report. Since July, the county health department has recommended mask use for everyone in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status, in an effort to curb the rise in infections.

The county’s percent positivity rate — the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of all people tested — was at 12.7%, a 10% decrease from the week before.

The state had 10,817 active cases and 416 hospitalizations. So far, 1,945 Montanans have died. About 52% of Montanans are fully vaccinated.

As of Friday, Gallatin County had 830 active COVID-19 cases, an increase from 704 last Friday and 438 the week before.

Countywide, 30 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. In total, 72 county residents have died. Eight of those deaths were reported this month.

The health department declined to release the vaccination status of those who have died, including the three people reported on Thursday. The department wouldn’t be releasing that information for several reasons, primarily out of respect for family of the deceased, Christenson said.

“I have weighed the protection of the individual’s privacy and the community’s right to know. Because we have available statewide and national data available that demonstrate the vaccines effectiveness, which I believe is at the root of this question, I will continue to refrain from releasing the vaccination status of individuals whose deaths are attributed to COVID-19,” she said.

Christenson said that while it’s important for the community to understand the vaccines efficacy in terms of breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths, looking at the small number of local deaths won’t provide a whole picture.

Instead, national and statewide data — the health department releases regular reports on the presence of variants and breakthrough cases — will provide a more complete depiction on how many fully vaccinated individuals fall ill.

In Montana, there have been 5,131 breakthrough cases, including 306 hospitalizations and 57 deaths since February, when the state began monitoring for breakthrough infections, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

That’s among nearly 50,000 cases reported since mid-February. Of the 269 deaths reported from April to September, 21% were fully vaccinated individuals. The other 79% were individuals who had not been vaccinated, according to DPHHS.

In Gallatin County, about one in four cases are breakthrough, Christenson said. An early September analysis found about nine in ten hospitalizations were unvaccinated patients.

“What’s important to note here is that as we’re seeing a rise in our cases, it’s not unusual to see a rise in breakthrough cases,” she said.

The data shows that overwhelmingly the vaccines do work, Christenson stressed.

“The vaccine remains effective in terms of protecting against hospitalization and severe outcomes including death,” Christenson said.

The hospital announced Wednesday it would be restricting visitors, save for few exceptions, and is preparing for the arrival of 10 National Guard members to aid with the hospital’s COVID-19 response. Friday, the governor’s office said Livingston HealthCare would receive six members of the National Guard.

In an update on Friday, Bozeman Health said it continued to see high rates of COVID-19 patients. On Friday, Deaconess Hospital’s critical care, medical and surgical units were all at 100% capacity.

Deaconess Hospital had 27 COVID-19 patients, ten of whom were in the critical care unit and the remainder in the medical unit.

The hospital has not yet needed to declare crisis standards of care — which rations care for some patients based on survival — but said the possibility would remain if cases and hospitalizations don’t decline.

“We know this is difficult and we appreciate everyone’s understanding as we work to keep our patients and community safe,” said Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s COVID-19 incident commander lead Friday.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct percentage people who were vaccinated and died of COVID-19. 

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

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