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Nine more Gallatin County residents have died due to complications from COVID-19, the Gallatin City-County Health Department announced this week.

On Monday the health department announced the deaths of three residents, two men and one woman all in their 70s.

On Friday the health department said it was notified of six more deaths: two women in their 90s, two women in their 70s, and a man in his 70s and a man in his 50s.

The deaths, some of which occurred in September and October but were found during data reconciliation, bring the total number of county residents who have died since the start of the pandemic to 98. Of those deaths, 34 have occurred since late August.

Ahead of Thanksgiving week, COVID-19 cases in Gallatin County have started to plateau after a few weeks of increasing and declining.

Lori Christenson, the county’s public health officer, said it was too early to tell if it meant the beginning of a marked decline in cases, but seeing a plateau was encouraging.

“We want to continue to see this and also see continued decline in cases,” she said during a virtual press conference.

Whether Thanksgiving will affect case counts isn’t yet known, Christenson said.

Overall, the county is in a better spot than last Thanksgiving. Case counts last year were higher and had risen considerably the week prior to the holiday.

The week prior to Thanksgiving 2020 averaged 167.7 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to this week’s average of 58 cases.

Last year, COVID-19 vaccines weren’t yet available either.

“It’s going to really depend on a lot of individual factors,” Christenson said. “Whether or not individuals stay home when they’re sick, or if they’ve received their vaccines or booster doses.”

The health department recommends people wear masks while in indoor public places regardless of vaccination status. That’s in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for communities experiencing high community transmission.

Gallatin County is seeing case counts about three times higher than what the CDC considers as “high.”

As of Friday, Gallatin County had 401 active cases and 23 hospitalizations.

The 7-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people decreased 17% to 58.2 cases from the previous week, according to a weekly report from the health department.

The county’s percent positivity rate — which measures the total number of people who test positive out of everyone who got a COVID-19 test — also declined from 12.4% last week to 11.3%.

Statewide, cases have also been on the decline. As of Friday, Montana had 6,669 active cases, compared to 7,361 last week and 8,705 two weeks ago.

To date, 2,547 Montanans have died of complications related to COVID-19. Friday there were 271 hospitalized statewide.

Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s COVID-19 incident command lead, said on Friday there were 20 COVID-19 patients at Deaconess Hospital.

The critical care unit was at 95% capacity. Seven of the 19 patients in the ICU were COVID-19 patients, Kujawa said. The medical unit was at 97% and surgical unit at 121% capacity.

About 50% of Montanans were fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to state data. That’s just below the national vaccination rate of 58%.

Of the 110,900 eligible residents in Gallatin County — everyone 5 years or older — about 57% were fully vaccinated.

The county’s vaccination rate went down last week after children aged 5 to 11 were added to the equation.

About 7% of children aged 5 to 11 have received a first dose of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine, which has been available to younger children for about two weeks.

Kujawa said Bozeman Health has administered over 805 pediatric vaccines to younger children during its vaccination clinics.

Gallatin County ranks fifth overall in the state for highest percent fully vaccinated, behind Deer Lodge, Missoula, Silver Bow and Powell counties.

Eligibility for booster doses of the three COVID-19 vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — is about to be widened.

The Food & Drug Administration approved booster doses for all adults at least six months after they’ve finished their second dose on Friday.

Prior to Friday’s announcement, booster doses were only available to adults 18 through 64 if they were at high risk for severe COVID-19, or lived or worked in a place with high risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Late Friday the CDC also signed off on booster doses for all adults. Speaking Friday morning prior to the CDC’s approval, Christenson said the health department will continue to hold vaccination clinics but awaited specific CDC guidance.

“We’ll have plenty of availability for individuals who are seeking those boosters at the existing clinics as well as through a primary care provider or pharmacy,” she said.

More information on vaccines, boosters or vaccination clinics can be found online at healthygallatin.org/covid-19-vaccines or by calling the local COVID-19 hotline at 548-0123.

Another resource to find vaccination providers and schedule appointments can be found online at vaccines.gov or by calling the national hotline at 1-800-232-0233.

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

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