BILLINGS - The COVID-19 pandemic has improved greatly over the last two years, but a reminder that the virus is still very much around.
Cases are once again spiking throughout the state with 1,500 cases reported by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) last week.
Currently, 15 Montana counties are considered at a high level of community spread. An increase in respiratory cases is causing concern for hospitals in Billings as COVID-19 cases have gone up in Yellowstone County and around the state.
On the last day of May, the state reported 28 total cases. But as of Wednesday, RiverStone Health reported 133 new cases on Wednesday in Yellowstone County alone, up from 54 on Monday and 113 on Tuesday.
The peak in January saw more than 3,000 cases for three straight days.
"Yellowstone County is increasing half the cases that maybe Gallatin is seeing," said Nancy Iversen, Billings Clinic director of patient safety and infection control. "The top counties — Gallatin, Missoula, and then Yellowstone is close behind."
While the cases are increasing, so far, they have not been as severe.
"If there's some good news about the Omicron it doesn't seem to be causing such severe illness in as many people," said Iversen "We do still have people hospitalized. We don't have people in our intensive care units as we had with the prior strain if you were thinking like Delta, or even the original SARS-CoV-2 prior to vaccinations."
And the numbers could be even higher since many home tests do not get reported.
"We believe there's a substantial under-counting nationally and in our community," Iversen said. "Absolutely."
According to a Billings Clinic post, emergency departments in Yellowstone County have seen a 71% increase in influenza-like illnesses.
"Of the respiratory viruses. COVID-19 SARS CoV-2 is the number one that we're seeing," she said. "And then we are seeing influenza A, we're seeing Rhinovirus, would be the top three. We're still kind of in a respiratory season right now."
Iversen says Billings Clinic will continue with vaccinations, masks and distancing and that outside the hospital people should do their own risk assessments.
"This virus is circulating," Iversen said. "It's going to continue to circulate. We are learning to live with this virus."