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Billings doctor explains differences between Delta variant and COVID of 2020

"From the point of exposure we're seeing people have symptoms develop within 24 to 48 hours."
Posted at 9:19 AM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 11:33:00-04

BILLINGS — If you’ve come down with COVID-19 in the last two months, odds are you contracted the Delta variant.

“We are essentially 100% Delta, and have been for a month or two at least,” said Dr. Michael Bush from St. Vincent Healthcare.

Bush explained recently that although the symptoms are the same, there are some differences between the initial COVID-19 strain and the Delta variant.

Bush says the Delta is probably 10 times more infectious than what we experienced in 2020. That means a difference in the rate of infection, and on top of that people are getting sicker, sooner.

“The Delta variant has such a high viral load early in the infection that from the point of exposure we're seeing people have symptoms develop within 24 to 48 hours, as opposed to three to five days, which is what we were seeing last year,” said Bush.

Data shows the vaccine is making a difference in the higher-risk populations who lined up and got their shots.

Bush said the vaccination rate in those 65 and older in Big Horn County and on the Crow Reservation is over 90%, and Yellowstone County is now over 80%.

So while much of the higher risk population has a degree of protection, the virus is quickly working its way through younger, less protected age groups, including those who don’t have an option to get vaccinated.

“The Delta variant does seem to be more infective in the pediatric population than what we were seeing in 2020. So that’s another change,” Bush said.

These changes and differences don’t and won’t stop with the Delta variant. Bush said there will be other variants because viruses mutate.

“We see that with influenza. COVID doesn't tend, coronaviruses don't tend to mutate as fast as the influenza viruses do, but there will be other variants.

“What I can tell you is that for people that are coming into the hospital, entering our ICU, that type of thing, having been vaccinated is about a 90% guarantee that that won't be you," he said.

The number of people hospitalized due to COVID in Montana on Tuesday was 427, up from 415 on Monday. The cumulative number of hospitalizations in Montana due to the virus is 7,527.

DPHHS released a report on Monday highlighting Montana data from February 2021 to September 2021, and found that 89.5% of the cases, 88.6% of hospitalizations, and 83.5% of the deaths were among people who were not fully vaccinated, including those not yet eligible for vaccination. Click here for more information and the full report.

An estimated 53% of eligible residents are now vaccinated, with 486,157 Montanans now considered fully vaccinated. If you want to get vaccinated, contact your county health department, or click here.

Last week, at the request of the following hospitals, Governor Greg Gianforte announced he is sending Montana National Guard troops to help with their COVID response:

  • St. Peter’s Health in Helena: 10 Guard.
  • Billings Clinic in Billings 20: Guard.
  • St. James Healthcare in Butte: 6 Guard.
  • St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings: 10 Guard.
  • Missoula County: 24 Guard.
  • Bozeman Health in Bozeman: 10 Guard.
  • Benefis Health System in Great Falls: 20 Guard.
  • Livingston HealthCare in Livingston: 6 Guard.
  • Logan Health in Kalispell: 25 Guard.
  • Logan Health in Whitefish: 2 Guard.
  • Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains: 4 Guard.

The Guard members will support staffing with non-medical ICU assistance, environmental services, patient data entry, and COVID testing, according to the governor's office.

Montana is not the only state deploying National Guard troops to help hospitals - other states include Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Kentucky, and Tennessee.