HELENA — Montana is seeing its biggest spike in COVID-19 cases in weeks.
As of July 23, the state reported 761 active cases, and 75 active hospitalizations. Those numbers are similar to what Montana was experiencing at the end of May. In addition, the daily reports from the state coronavirus task force have announced 591 new COVID cases this week – the highest since the week of May 24.
The center of the current spike is in Flathead County, which had 234 active cases Friday. That is more than double the counties with the next-highest numbers – Yellowstone County with 107 cases and Cascade County with 100.
Among other large counties, the case rate remained lower. Missoula County has 69 active cases, Gallatin County has 44, Lewis and Clark County has 20 and Ravalli County has 14.
Mineral County, which has only about 4,500 residents, has also seen a jump in COVID cases, with 11 new cases reported Friday and a total of 28 active.
On Thursday, Governor Greg Gianforte referenced the increasing number of COVID-related hospitalizations on Twitter, again supporting vaccinations:
COVID-19 vaccines save lives, and the proof is in the numbers. Unvaccinated Montanans account for 94% of new COVID-related hospitalizations.— Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) July 22, 2021
State data shows 48% of eligible Montanans – almost 440,000 – were fully vaccinated by July 23. In Flathead County, that number is 39% – the lowest among large counties in the state. The highest rate is in Missoula County, which has 60% of its eligible population fully vaccinated.
Leaders with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services said Friday that Montana’s vaccination rate was similar to the national average. According to the CDC, just under 49% of the total population has been fully vaccinated, and 57% for those 12 and older.
DPHHS said vaccines remain the best tool available against the virus, and they continue to strongly recommend getting the shot. According to their latest report, they have identified a total of only about 500 “breakthrough” cases, in which someone contracted COVID after being fully vaccinated.
For several weeks, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has been monitoring the number of cases linked to variants of the coronavirus. According to a report updated this Tuesday, they had identified 25 more of those cases over seven days, with 14 of them being from the so-called “delta” variant. That strain, which has raised concerns in other states, is now the predominant variant in Montana.
One area of concern is that more than 20% of patients infected with the delta variant have been taken to the hospital. That’s compared to around 9% of those who had the “alpha” variant, which was more common from March to June.
DPHHS says not all COVID samples can be tested for variants, since they need to contain a certain amount of genetic material to be sequenced.
You can find more of DPHHS’ data on COVID-19 at the agency’s website.