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Ravalli County adds 44 COVID deaths to official count

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COVID-19 electron microscope scan

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow) — also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19 — isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab.

The number of reported COVID-19 related deaths in Ravalli County increased by 44 this week following a vetting and reconciliation process completed by the county’s public health department.

The 44 deaths occurred between March and November of this year.

Total confirmed COVID-19 related deaths in Ravalli County now stand at 116.

As of Thursday, the state’s COVID-19 tracking website said Ravalli County currently has 43 active reported cases of COVID. There have been 5,413 cases since the pandemic began in the county.

Ravalli County Public Health director Tiffany Webber said the reconciliation followed a vetting process of death certificates and medical records from a list sent to her office by the state.

“Entities are supposed to report to the local public health department when they have deaths related to COVID,” Webber said. “They are supposed to send me that information so I can report it. That’s not always happening.”

Instead, Webber said her department receives a list of names from the state whose death certificates indicate that COVID was a contributing factor. The public health department is required to verify those cases and if the deaths are COVID-related, the numbers are reconciled with the state.

“We’re lucky that we’re not a big county,” Webber said. “I’m able to go and look and verify those.”

Depending on what’s included on the death certificate, Webber said she might pull medical records in an attempt to verify that COVID was a contributing factor in the death.

“There are times when I look at somebody and see when they were diagnosed with COVID in relation to when they actually died,” she said. “The records may indicate they had recovered. COVID might have been the domino that started their decline, but it wasn’t what killed them. So we don’t report those as a COVID death.”

Webber understands there is a concern in Ravalli County that the numbers are reported correctly, she said.

“For transparency, we go a little bit extra to make sure our reporting is correct,” she said.

The reconciliation numbers reported this week are higher than normal this time around because the numbers Webber reported to the state a couple of months weren’t recorded.

At this point, Webber hopes that it’s not about numbers anymore.

“At the end of the day, we know what’s going on,” Webber said. “COVID is here. We know that some people are dying from it for a plethora of reasons. People have been given the information on how to best protect themselves and their families.”

“I don’t want to put these numbers out to shock or upset anyone,” she said. "Now we need to move forward knowing this is what viruses are like. We are probably going to see more of this because that’s what viruses do. They mutate.”

“What are we going to do to live with that?” Webber said. “We are going to have some masking etiquette. It might just have to be part of your cultural norm. If you’re going to go into Walmart, you probably should wear your mask. If you’re hanging out with friends and you’re not feeling right, you might wear your mask. No one wants your sore throat, runny nose, sinus problems. Nobody wants that.”

The basic advice remains the same. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Get a vaccine.

Webber said there have been no documented cases in Ravalli County of people dying from getting the vaccine.

There have only been two occasions when county nurses opted to send a person being vaccinated to the hospital after they reported not feeling well. Both were breathing fine when they left the office and Webber doesn’t believe they were admitted to the hospital.

“We’ve not had anyone become anaphylactic or have had to use epinephrine,” Webber said. “What I’ve seen is that people sometimes feel a little bit nauseous. Almost every time, it’s been someone who told me later that when they get poked, they feel like they’re going to pass out.”

Since the beginning of April this year, 83% of Montanans who were hospitalized and 77% of those who died were unvaccinated at the time of infection, Webber said in a press release.

This information and other COVID-related activity can be found by visiting the Montana state website at dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/CoronavirusMT/demographics.

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