Flathead County COVID-19 Case Numbers Continue to Fall

Health Officer Joe Russell said he hopes things continue going in the right direction, but he remains concerned about breakthrough cases

By Mike Kordenbrock
Children’s doses of COVID-19 vaccines are prepared at vaccine clinic at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on Dec. 1, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

COVID-19 data for Flathead County through roughly the first half of December has continued trending downward on multiple fronts.

”Things are going in the right direction. I want to hope that they stay that way,” Flathead City-County Health Officer Joe Russell said last week during a board of health meeting.

The average number of COVID-19 cases per day in Flathead County through Dec. 13 has neared June 2021 levels, according to data compiled by the county health department.

Through Dec. 13, the county averaged 15.5 new COVID-19 cases per day, compared to 74.2 per day in October and 42.7 in November. In June, the county was averaging 9.1 cases per day.

The average number of COVID-19 patients being treated daily at county hospitals has also continued to fall from a peak of 60 patients a day in late October to about 20 as of Dec. 10. Russell noted during the meeting that Logan Health Whitefish had recently gone multiple days with no COVID-19 patients.

On Dec. 17 the National Guard group that had been assisting with non-clinical duties at Logan Health hospital since early October worked its last day.

The majority of COVID-19 patients at Logan Health continue to be unvaccinated. Midway through last week the hospital was treating 14 people for COVID-19, and only four were vaccinated. None of the hospital’s vaccinated patients at that time were in intensive care units or on ventilators.

Flathead County reported about 40 COVID-19 deaths in the month of November and as of Monday COVID-19 had caused the deaths of 218 residents.

Disease prevalence, defined as the number of active cases on a given day, has also continued to fall in the county from an early October peak of more than 1,000 active cases in a day to 147 active cases as of Dec. 13. As of Monday, that number had fallen to 120, according to data on the state’s case mapping and information website.

While Russell expressed optimism about COVID-19 data trends in the county, including the county’s test positivity rate falling below 10% to 7.5%, he said that he remains concerned about breakthrough cases, which account for about 20% of cases the county is seeing now. He attributed the number of breakthrough cases to the Delta variant.

Since September the majority of vaccine doses administered in the county have been booster shots. Vaccination rates are continuing to increase slowly. According to county data 53% of residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Among the county’s eligible population 43% of people are considered fully vaccinated, which is up from 41% midway through November.