Montana added 417 new COVID-19 cases, 18 new deaths and 11 new hospitalizations over the last week.
The state has also seen an increase in variants, according to state data published Wednesday. In total, 726 variants have been detected in the state with 577 of those falling under variants of concern, or a variant with increased transmissibility and potentially reduced effectiveness of the vaccine, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Of those, 51 cases of the Delta variant have been reported, with the bulk of cases appearing in Yellowstone County. The state has seen 500 cases of the Alpha variant and 26 cases of the Gamma variant.
The state lab is sequencing all of the COVID-positive samples that are tested for variants, DPHHS spokesperson Jon Ebelt said Monday. The lab is sequencing approximately 75 to 150 per week depending on volumes. But each week there are a few positive COVID-19 samples that don’t have enough genomic material to provide an adequate read, so those samples can’t be sequenced.
With the spread of the variants, hospitalizations are increasing, particularly with the Delta variant. DPHHS reported a 24.4% hospitalization rate in Delta cases, an 8.7% hospitalization rate in Alpha cases and a 10% hospitalization rate for Gamma cases.
RiverStone Health has tracked an increase in COVID-19 patients admitted to the intensive care unit per day on average over the last several months.
“People who are being hospitalized are more ill and requiring supportive measures through ventilation,” RiverStone Health public information officer Barbara Schneeman said.
In April, the ICU saw 3.4 people per day with 1.6 people on ventilators on average in Yellowstone County, according to Schneeman. In June there was an average of 9 people in the ICU per day with 5.5 patients on ventilators.
Yellowstone County also reported eight deaths in the first 19 days of July, which Schneeman called “alarming.” In all of June, six deaths were recorded in the county.
For the state, COVID Act Now reported on July 16 a seven-day average of 61.9 people hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase from the seven-day average on July 6 which saw 49.9 hospitalizations.
On July 18, deaths in the state averaged 2.6 per day in seven days compared to the week of July 4, which saw a seven-day average of .6 deaths per day.
With school resuming in the fall there is concern for an increase in COVID-19 cases as vaccination rates in younger populations has fallen flat, said RiverStone Health vice president of public health services and Yellowstone County Deputy Health Officer Shawn Hinz.
In Montana, only 9.4% of those under 18 have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of the 18 to 64-year-olds in the state, 51.7% have received one dose and those 65 years old and older have received one dose, according to Mayo Clinic’s vaccine tracker.
“In regards to all the variants, the illness and the severity of the illness (is concerning),” Hinz said. “As the mutations are continuing to occur we have to be responsive to what’s happening in regard to the changes in the genetic code.”
Of the eligible population in the state, 48% are vaccinated.
Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the pandemic, Hinz said as she urgently encouraged unvaccinated residents to get the shot.
“Vaccination is our primary defense right now,” Hinz said. “The more it spreads around the more it mutates and the more variants we’ll get.”