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The community transmission rate in Gallatin County this week was about five times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers high rates of transmission.

The CDC ranks transmission rates as "high" if a county sees 100 or more cumulative cases per 100,000 over seven days. As of Thursday, the county had 555 cases per 100,000.

Despite a decline in weekly average cases last week, this week cases were back on the rise, said Lori Christenson, the public health officer for the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

“This virus continues to be prevalent and it shows we’ve yet to turn the corner in number of cases,” Christenson said during a press conference Friday. 

As of Friday, Gallatin County had 635 active COVID-19 cases and 29 hospitalizations. Since July 8, the county has added nearly 4,000 cases.

A woman in her 60s died in a Gallatin County hospital the week of Sept. 19, the health department announced Wednesday. Her death marked the 73rd COVID-19 death in the county. Of those, nine have occurred this summer.

As of Friday, the seven-day rolling average number of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Gallatin County increased 28% to 80.8 cases, according to the health department’s weekly COVID-19 report.

Since July, in alignment with CDC recommendations, the county health department has recommended mask use for everyone in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status in 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 14.2%.

Coinciding with the percent positivity rate, the county saw an overall decrease in the weekly average number of COVID-19 tests administered.

On Sept. 28, the county averaged 650 tests. A week later, on Tuesday, the county averaged 500 tests — about a 23% decrease.

“We need to be testing more,” Christenson said. 

The state had 12,539 active cases and 463 hospitalizations as of Friday. So far, 2,079 Montanans have died of complications related to COVID-19. About 53% of Montanans are fully vaccinated.

The counties leading Montana with case counts are Yellowstone, Missoula, Flathead, Cascade and Lewis and Clark counties, in that order.

Montana ranked second highest in the nation for number of new cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days with 593, according to the CDC.

Alaska ranked first in the nation followed by Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia and Idaho.

Bozeman Health said at a Friday news conference that it continued to see high numbers of COVID-19 patients.

On Friday, Deaconess Hospital’s critical care unit and medical unit were at 95% and 82% capacity, respectively. The hospital had 23 COVID-19 patients, eight of whom were in the ICU.

The hospital is still restricting visitors a with few exceptions, including for pediatric patients and some pregnancy visits.

All hospital patients needing ventilation in September were unvaccinated, Kujawa said. The health department publishes tables in its weekly COVID-19 report showing the proportion of breakthrough cases — where a person fully vaccinated contracts COVID-19 — which consistently have shown most cases and hospitalizations are unvaccinated individuals.

Last week, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services released a study that showed that unvaccinated individuals are five times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 and three times more likely to die than people who have been fully vaccinated.

The hospital has not yet needed to declare crisis standards of care — which rations care for some patients based on survival — or use the surge unit prepared for COVID-19 patients, said Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s lead COVID-19 incident commander.

Kujawa said Bozeman Health has requested an extension from the governor's office to keep Montana National Guard members in the hospital. The hospital received 10 members at the end of September, who have been primarily helping with duties like cleaning and turning over beds.

"Because they are so crucial and helpful for our success, we did request for an extension," Kujawa said.

Bozeman Health is also preparing to use National Guard members to help with an "anticipated rush" in vaccine demand if the Food and Drug Administration approves the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 years and younger, she said. 

Overall, vaccination rates in Gallatin County have slowly but surely risen. The state reported Friday that 61% of eligible county residents — anyone age 12 years old and older — were fully vaccinated.

Vaccination rates in children and young adults still continue to be lower when compared to older adults. People aged 18 to 29 are about 50% fully vaccinated while children aged 12 to 17 are 41% fully vaccinated.

Bozeman Health is still holding mass vaccination clinics for third shots of the Pfizer vaccine. The CDC approved the third booster shot at the end of September. Most adults are eligible, but eligibility and information on vaccine clinics can be found online at healthygallatin.org/covid-19-vaccines.

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

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