Ravalli Co. health officials urging personal responsibility to counter COVID spike

Largest spike in COVID cases since last winter seen in the Bitterroot
Posted at 6:02 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 00:20:26-04

HAMILTON — Ravalli County is keeping a close eye on the latest uptick in the number of positive COVID-19 cases like most counties across Montana.

But they're encouraging the people to use continued caution and personal responsibility as tools to control the spike.

It's a much different scene in downtown Hamilton as this summer draws to a close as only a handful of businesses still post signs urging people to use masks.

Bitterroot Drug is still offering vaccinations but by and large, it's a vastly different landscape from last August.

But there are concerns. Last Thursday, the state reported 25-new cases here in the Bitterroot. Another 35 on Friday -- the highest since last winter.

Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and other healthcare outlets are also reporting other respiratory problems that weren't a problem during the lockdowns.

"They've been seeing strep throat and we've had some RSV down here that's a respiratory viral illness, so we are seeing some other things," explains Ravalli County Public Health Director Tiffany Webber.

"We are getting quite a few tests coming back, but we're just seeing more positives than negatives, where for a little while we were getting more negatives than positives so."

That includes the U.K. and Delta variants. But on the positive side, Webber says there's been a strong acceptance of the vaccine, especially among the valley's elderly population, with vaccines still available, even for teens following FDA approval this week.

"So, we do carry Pfizer, we do appointments on Tuesdays. Walk-ins are welcome. So get your vaccine. Then in the interim what you can do is wear your mask if you have a known exposure. Wash your hands frequently. Be mindful of that. Watch your distance. If you can stand back in a conversation stand back."

Webber told MTN News it's a case of using several tools to control the COVID spread.

"The prevention strategy that we're using is a layered strategy. We expect that there are holes always in all these okay? But if we layer them up, we have a better chance."

With 51% of the Bitterroot's population vaccinated, Webber says Ravalli County has been doing a pretty good job of dealing with the pandemic. She just hopes that everyone continues to exercise personal responsibility as we head into fall.

"You know we're just trying to get people to come together and realize we don't need a mandate to come together as a community and do the right thing," Webber said. "You know, so for me specifically, I know that if I've had a known exposure, and I'm vaccinated, I'm going to wear my mask for the next 14-days until I can see."

"I'm going to stay home if I'm sick. And that's what we encourage people to do. Please stay home if you're sick. Wear your mask if you're sick. Because it not only stops COVID but we also saw less cases of flu, and other respiratory illnesses because we were using those precautionary measures."

Ravalli County is beginning to offer a "third shot" of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for "immunocompromised" people, helping to offset a somewhat sharper drop in efficacy from their initial inoculations.

The Montana COVID-19 tracking website shows there have been 3,516 cases confirmed in Ravalli County including 3,387 recoveries and 52 deaths. A total of 77 active cases were reported on Monday.