The end of a busy summer
The end of a busy summer and the beginning of mostly an in-classroom school year has kept our Public Health and COVID Incident Management teams busy. I apologize for this delay on a needed update for our present COVID -19 situation. Most of us realize we are no longer in a virus free Montana bubble, so I think a few stats outside of our area is needed for perspective. Please note, as misinformation, cherry picking stats, and conspiracy theories on a “fake” pandemic continue to become louder in a vocal minority, I will only relay current information from the White House task force, CDC, and their international scientific partners where there is consensus of opinion. Also, some personal observations from our tertiary hospitals in Billings will be shared.
- Most, but not all, countries have developed good data gathering capabilities. Presently, we are approaching 1 million deaths from COVID-19 from approx. 33 million cases.
- COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in the US surpassing Alzheimer’s disease, accidents, lung disease, diabetes and many other causes.
- 204,550 Americans have died from the COVID-19 pandemic from approx. 7 million cases recorded. Long term health consequences in many infected people are now being realized and studied. Unfortunately, the US has suffered more than many comparative Western countries on a per capita basis. As an example, the European Union (plus the UK) has a dense, multicultural population of 514 million and a COVID death total of approx. 188 thousand deaths, whereas the US has 37% less population than Europe, but a much more rapid COVID death rate and now surpassing Europe by approx. 17,000 deaths.
- Regional surges continue to dominate our country resulting in more injuries/deaths and economic mitigation in these areas. Presently, the midwestern and southern states are the hardest hit areas.
- Mixed good and bad news for our state presently. Despite having less of an economic “shutdown” than most states and one of the first to begin the opening process of our economy, we are presently the eighth best state in mortality per capita. Our 173 COVID -19 deaths for Montanans now place COVID as the 10th most common cause of death in the state. In comparison, our car accident deaths per capita is 6th worst in the US- now at 136 lives lost. Montana’s death rate for COVID will likely far exceed auto deaths by year end.
- Recently, Montana is surging in the number of our citizens infected with COVID -19. Only 10 US states have a higher per capita COVID case count than MT. This is reflected in the record number of cases and hospitalizations seen almost daily the last 2 weeks. MT is presently in the “orange” level for state/county COVID risk level – see carbonalert.org for details
- 40% of state cases recently have been seen in the age group of 20-39 years-old. Though usually with mild disease, this group is thought to be the most common spreaders to those harmed by the virus.
- Though hospitalizations can be lengthy and complicated, Montana is doing an excellent job on preventing deaths during the hospital stay.
- Regionally, there are counties that are truly suffering the effects of this illness. Our Native American citizens in Bighorn, Rosebud and Roosevelt are experiencing the most prevalent COVID infections/hospitalizations in the US. Yellowstone County continues with a disproportional amount of cases weekly, and 30-60 people hospitalized daily with COVID-19, many treated in the ICU. Hospital capacity this last week has reached 110%, extra personnel have been acquired from Denver to help an overworked and stressed health care staff.
- To date we have had 117 cases, 5 hospitalizations and no deaths due to COVID-19 in Carbon county. Like in our state, many of our cases have come the last few weeks. The majority of our cases have been due to close contacts of infected individuals in families, weddings, work groups, and some convenience stores and bars.
- Our original goals for managing this virus continue to be met: preserving hospital and public health capacity, avoiding super spreading events, protecting our vulnerable populations (nursing home, assisted living and group homes) and keeping our economy open as much as possible.
- Expecting a rise in cases during the school year, a new goal is to continue in -school options for our students while maintaining safety for our students, teachers and families.
- It has been difficult for all schools to limit their “close contacts” to positive cases. All close contacts need to be home quarantined for 14 days despite maybe testing negatively initially. This has become very disruptive to schools, students and families. As school leaders, and families test their patience while complying with public health guidance, we should remember to be appreciative to their efforts which will continue to suppress the virus in our communities – protecting our most vulnerable.
Our location next to Yellowstone County and one of the busiest summer/fall tourists seasons I can remember, would predict a much higher impact of this virus in our county. What/who is responsible for suppressing these infections to a level which is manageable here? I’d like to suggest a few groups in addition to MOST of us taking our individual responsibility to suppress this virus in our state/country during this tragic time. Besides masking, distance and hygiene, isolating positives and contacts is essential to prevent rapid spread of COVID-19. This work is done by our detail orientated, tenacious public health nurses who continue to work relentlessly to create a safe environment for all of us. Also, most business owners and restaurant staff in our high-volume areas continue to insist that their patrons follow established safety guidelines for COVID. Doing this work has often brought ridicule and even threats by some of the public who don’t feel they should be inconvenienced in this national effort. Please show your support to all these folks.
There is a lot of press predicting a difficult winter COVID season. Although this is a possibility, I feel hopeful here, as it has become obvious how following the well-known simple guidelines are keeping most of us from acquiring COVID -19. Earlier, I mentioned disinformation, which I now think is partially responsible for the US lagging many countries in dealing with this event. One of the most prevalent false claims is to pick inaccurate or irrelevant statistics to make the case that the world scientific community is wrong about the severity of this new illness – COVID -19 is NOT worth the hardships to suppress the virus. As more of our neighbors have family and friends hospitalized or killed by this virus, please be sensitive to those who might be reading your theories on the benign nature of this pandemic.
Thanks everyone for doing your part to keep each other safe and our communities vibrant.
Bill George MD
Carbon County Public Health Officer