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COVID Hospitalizations In Montana Reach Highest Levels Since January

Nurse working in a hospital
Nurse working in a hospital

The highly infectious delta variant, summer heat and wildfire smoke are all factors state health officials say are leading to a spike in COVID-19 related hospitalizations not seen since January.

About 190 Montanans were hospitalized at the start of this week, a number not seen since Jan. 14, when the state had about 4,800 active cases.

Today, there’s about half as many active cases, and about half of eligible Montanans are fully vaccinated. So why are we seeing so many hospitalizations?

Acting state medical officer Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek says it's a perfect storm. The highly infectious delta variant is part of the reason.

“It causes more infections and it spreads faster than earlier viral strains. There’s some early data to suggest that the delta variant also causes more severe illness,” Cook-Shimanek says.

She adds excessive heat and wildfire smoke are pushing more people indoors, leading to increased possible exposure. Like federal health officials, Cook-Shimanek also says the smoke complicates respiratory infections.

“So when you have exposure to air pollutants in wildfire smoke, it can irritate the lungs, it can cause inflammation, it can alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, and that does include COVID-19.”  

Cook-Shimanek says a majority of hospitalized patients are still unvaccinated, although the proportion of fully vaccinated hospital patients has grown by 10% over the last month. She says that increase is expected because delta cases continue to rise. She says COVID vaccines remain effective against the coronavirus, including the delta variant.

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

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.