HELENA — Active cases of COVID-19 have fallen below 400 in Montana - marking a continued steady decline but hospitalizations from the virus have remained constant for the past couple months, meaning hospitals are still dealing with severe cases that require intensive care.
In total, nearly 5,500 Montanans have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 with 53 of those cases occurring right now.
The State of Montana moved to Phase 1B of their vaccination strategy on Jan. 19. At the time the seven-day average for daily cases of the virus was 396 with the average number of hospitalizations for a seven-day period sitting at 185 people. By April 1, when the state opened vaccinations to anyone over the age of 16, the seven-day average for cases was 129 with 50 people hospitalized. As of June 25, the seven-day average is 52 daily cases with 58 people hospitalized.
“We’re not seeing the same number of hospitalizations that we saw during the peak. We’re still seeing a very consistent number of hospitalizations over time and moreover, that proportion of people being hospitalized is getting younger over time,” said St. Peter's Health Medical Group President Dr. Todd Wampler.
The younger ages for hospitalizations, compared to a year ago, follow vaccination trends. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 70% of Americans over the age of 65 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccination percentage drops significantly the younger the adult is.
“Around 50% of people hospitalized in the last two months here at St. Peter’s have been under the age of 60, which I think is awfully young,” noted Wampler.
While some of those hospitalized were against receiving the vaccine, others had simply put it off or said they couldn’t mind time to get the shot.
“A lot of people are hesitant I think because of how sick they might get if they’re vaccinated but I can testify that being hospitalized with COVID is a lot more detrimental to work schedules and lifestyles than the vaccine,” said St. Peter's Health Medical Floor Nurse Metta Barnhart.
Barnhart has been on the frontlines of the pandemic for the past 18 months, caring for those with the most serious complications from the virus.
“We’ve had patients who are 30 years old and patients who are 90 hospitalized with COVID,” said Barnhart. “Some are more active than other patients, but they are all typically requiring supplemental oxygen. They all are extremely fatigued when they move.”
Montana isn’t the only state not seeing a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations. States like Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Utah have all seen an increase in hospitalization rates as the delta variant of the virus continues to spread and exponentially increase in confirmed cases.
St. Peter’s strongly encourage people to talk to their doctor if they haven’t been vaccinated or have questions about the vaccine. While the majority of people that have contracted COVID-19 in Montana have survived with limited health complications, around one in twenty (4.8%) have been hospitalized. High-risk factors for severe COVID complications like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are common in the community.
“If I had a magic wand I would wave it and make those conditions go away right away. I can’t do that in the space of a couple months, but what we can do right away is to get everyone vaccinated so we can stop the spread of the illness to those high-risk people,” said Wampler.
More information about where to get a vaccine can be found here.
Only 46% of the state's population is fully immunized against COVID-19. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reports with more than 861,000 doses given in total, nearly 426,000 Montanans are fully immunized against COVID-19.