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Highly Infectious Delta Variant Causes COVID Hospitalizations In Yellowstone County


The highly infectious COVID-19 Delta variant is raising concern among health officials in Yellowstone County where nearly half of cases in the state from the newer strain have been found. Recent hospitalized patients in Yellowstone County tend to be sicker and increasingly in need of ventilators.

As of Wednesday, state health officials say there were 33 confirmed cases of the Delta variant statewide, and 14 of those detections were made in Yellowstone County. Riverstone Health spokesperson Barbara Schneeman says hospitalizations in Yellowstone County have remained steady.

“But the number of people who were in the ICU and the number of people on ventilators was up from May to June,” Schneeman says.

Schneeman says over half of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county over the last month were in the ICU or on ventilators. Schneeman says that and the arrival of the highly infectious Delta variant in Yellowstone County is concerning, with over 55% of the eligible population unvaccinated.

“So I think as the fall comes and the winter comes, if our vaccination rates don’t increase, we’re bound to see more COVID-19 disease,” Schneeman says.

The state has contracted with labs at both state universities and a private Missoula lab to run analysis on positive COVID-19 tests to identify variants. State health officials have tied the Delta variant to at least seven hospitalizations and one death, but say it’s not always possible to connect variant cases back to hospital patients.

So far this month, three Yellowstone county residents have died of COVID-19. Schneeman says one was a woman in her 90s who was fully vaccinated, but two were unvaccinated. 

“Again, if people are not vaccinated, I encourage them to continue to wear masks, social distance and make a plan to get vaccinated,” Schneeman says.

To date, unvaccinated people account for about 95% of hospitalizations, according to the state health department.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.