A Yellowstone County child died Tuesday after being stricken with influenza, according to county health officials.
Chloe Lai was a student at St. Francis School, according to Billings Catholic Schools president Shaun Harrington. He said Lai's parents on Wednesday confirmed that her death was flu-related.
The death is the fourth this flu season in the county, and the first flu-related death of a child in Montana since the 2015-2016 season.
So far this flu season, there have been 33 flu-related deaths in the state. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 97 pediatric flu-related deaths this season.
Harrington also issued a statement about Lai's death:
"Chloe missed school last Wednesday for non-medical reasons, and we didn’t have school on Thursday or Friday. Evidently, she had a normal weekend with family and friends and started having symptoms sometime Sunday. As her symptoms worsened her parents took her to the hospital, and she was admitted. Her condition grew progressively worse, and she passed away early yesterday afternoon.
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"In our school environment, it was a great comfort to our students, staff and families to have our faith to lean on. ... We have appreciated that our parish priests and the Crisis Team have been here to provide support to our students and staff. The Billings community and our Billings Catholic Schools family have been very supportive of the school and Chloe’s family."
According to RiverStone Health, flu activity is still widespread in Montana, but cases have declined in the past few weeks. So far this year, about 6,500 cases have been documented in Montana; typically, more cases are unreported. Almost 700 of those required hospitalization.
In Yellowstone County, about 650 reported cases have required 131 hospitalizations.
The health agency warned that "many weeks" remain in the flu season, and the CDC "continues to recommend getting a flu vaccine."
Harrington said that the school checked with RiverStone to ensure that they were following the correct policies to prevent the spread of the flu and other diseases at school.