One-third of all Flathead County COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic have occurred in the last three months, primarily in August and September, as a Delta-fueled surge that began in July has continued escalating and seeped into residential-care facilities.
Health officials said the deaths have included unvaccinated people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, in addition to the more common older ages.
Three deaths in the last month were from two separate assisted-living facilities and one was from a long-term facility, according to the Flathead City-County Health Department, which doesn’t provide identifying details.
The Brendan House, a nursing home under the umbrella of Logan Health, is in “outbreak status” until Oct. 4 after four residents tested positive for COVID-19 and one died from the virus in September, according to Chris Leopold, a spokesperson for Logan Health. At least one staff member also tested positive.
Following a data reconciliation through the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, the county’s COVID-19 death toll in August was officially 22, marking the second-deadliest month of the pandemic behind the 25 deaths in December 2020.
Seventeen deaths were reported in Flathead County in September, although the month’s total is likely higher because of reporting delays, according to health department officials.
There were eight deaths in July, when cases first began rising in the county after reaching a low of six cases per day in late June, according to health department data. The county has regularly exceeded 100 new daily cases in recent weeks.
The 47 deaths since July — including 39 in August and September — represent 31% of all 153 COVID-19 deaths in Flathead County, as of Oct. 1, since the pandemic began in March 2020.
A larger majority of the recent deaths have occurred in the general population, while trending younger, as opposed to earlier in the pandemic when a substantial percentage stemmed from residential-care outbreaks.
Hospitalizations have also been shattering pandemic records in the county, hovering between 54 and 59 each day the last two weeks. Before the current surge, the previous single-day high was 39 on Nov. 30 of last year.
According to Logan Health Medical Center’s weekly status reports, which reflect the status of hospitalizations at 9 a.m. every Wednesday, 44 of the 46 COVID patients who have been listed in the ICU since the report launched on Sept. 1 have been unvaccinated, while 24 of the 25 on ventilators have been unvaccinated.
The data reflect a trend of severe illness and death almost uniformly afflicting unvaccinated people in a county whose full vaccination rate lags well behind the state’s other most populous counties, although it has gradually ticked up in Flathead County from 40% in early August to 44% on Oct. 1.
The health department is now administering the COVID-19 vaccine every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Flathead County Fairgrounds Expo Building, according to a Sept. 29 press release.
Health officials previously offered COVID-19 vaccinations at the fairgrounds from Jan. 7 to June 22 but moved the clinics to once a week at the health department after vaccine uptake declined. In anticipation of the booster recommendation, the health department moved its weekly clinic back to the fairgrounds on Sept. 21.
First and second doses, as well as additional doses for immunocompromised individuals, are available for eligible populations, as are booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals who meet criteria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
People interested in the booster shot need to have received the Pfizer vaccine as their primary series, and at least six months must have passed since receiving their second dose. Visit www.flatheadhealth.org/booster-dose-information to view full booster eligibility requirements.
“COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 infection,” health officials said in the Sept. 29 press release.
Due to limited staff capacity, the health department is administering the COVID-19 vaccine only on Tuesdays. The vaccine is also available at various other locations around Flathead County. People can visit vaccinefinder.org and type in their zip code to find the nearest locations to receive a vaccine.
Vaccine appointments are encouraged for the weekly fairgrounds clinics due to high levels of interest. To request an appointment, visit www.flatheadhealth.org/vaccine-request-form or call (406) 751-8119.
Health officials note that due to the influx of community interest, people may experience long wait times if they choose the walk-in option.
“Our staff is working hard to provide vaccine to our community as efficiently as possible,” said Joe Russell, Flathead County’s health officer. “We’d like to thank the community for their patience as we continue working to distribute vaccine to all those who are interested.”
Check in with flatheadhealth.org for updated information regarding COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
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