Flathead County Seeing Few COVID-19 Hospitalizations

Health Officer Joe Russell said he is excited, but still hopes people will get tested if they suspect they have COVID-19

By Mike Kordenbrock
A COVID-10 screening site in Kalispell. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Friday marked the first time in two weeks a Flathead County resident had been admitted to a county hospital with COVID-19, according to Flathead City-County Health Officer Joe Russell.

Russell said that in this case the individual, an infant, was not admitted for COVID-19 infection, but had tested positive. As of April 15, Montana had 11 people hospitalized statewide for COVID-19. 

In mid-February Logan Health Medical Center in Kalispell had closed down its COVID-19 intensive care unit, because it was able to accommodate COVID-19 patient needs in its normal intensive care unit. On March 23 Logan Health announced on its Facebook page that it would be discontinuing posting weekly a report of COVID-19 hospitalizations. At that point in time three people were hospitalized and none were on ventilators or receiving intensive care unit treatment.

County COVID-19 hospitalizations have been in the single digits or at zero for weeks now. The average daily COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county have been below 10 since about mid March. After an Omicron variant surge earlier in the year, case counts in the Flathead have dropped off dramatically since February, when the county averaged a little under 45 cases a day. In March that number fell to 5.2, and through about the first two weeks of April the county has averaged 2.1 COVID-19 cases a day. 

Russell called the downturn in cases “predictable,” and said he certainly hopes case counts remain low. “There was a streak of five days when we had 0 or 1 case,” Russell said. “I would predict we’re probably going to see some additional uptick because of what’s going on in other parts of the country, but they’re not going to be significant, and they’re not going to be enough to tip over Flathead County, so that’s kind of where I am with it.”

The way the virus is spreading at the county level resembles endemic disease spread, according to Russell. That means the virus is continuing to circulate, but its presence in terms of impacts on everyday life is more akin to that of other regularly occurring viruses. 

Russell said that he’s excited about where the county stands right now in terms of its overall COVID-19 situation, but that he hopes people continue get a home test kit, or get tested otherwise if they suspect they might have COVID-19, and that if they test positive they isolate for five days.

“We still need to remind ourselves that COVID’s out there, and there are still susceptible populations, and keeping the viral load down in our community is a significant benefit.”

COVID-19 community levels in the county are considered low, according to standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Friday there were 16 active cases in Flathead County and 385 across Montana. 

Statewide COVID-19 deaths began increasing around December, before beginning to fall sometime in early February, according to a weekly epidemiological profile report from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. 

Since 2020 Montana has reported 3,260 deaths and 11,856 hospitalizations due to COVID-19. Over the last year 1,664 Montanans have died because of COVID-19 and about 7,000 have been hospitalized. Among those deaths 87 were reported between Feb. 12 and April 8 of this year, and 351 hospitalizations were reported over the same span. That accounts for about 5% of deaths and hospitalizations reported in Montana over the last year. 

Most COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Montana have occurred among unvaccinated people since COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. Statewide 55% of Montanans are considered fully vaccinated. In Flathead County, 45% of residents are considered fully vaccinated.