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Moment of silence held for Yellowstone County COVID deaths

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Covid deaths

RiverStone Heath employees gather at First Avenue South and South 27th Street for a moment of silence in memory of at least 437 Yellowstone County residents who have died of COVID-19 illness. A blue marker flag has been planted in the lawn to signify each of the Yellowstone County people lost to the pandemic.

RiverStone Health held a moment of silence Monday to remember all the Yellowstone County residents who have died in the pandemic.

Blue flags represent the 439 lives lost in the county, which has the highest average daily deaths in the state. Flathead and Gallatin counties follow with an average of 1.4 and 1.3 deaths per day related to COVID-19.

Over the weekend, two more Yellowstone County residents died of COVID related illness, including a woman in her 80s. RiverStone Health is still awaiting confirmation on the woman's vaccination status. A woman in her 70s also died and was unvaccinated. Both had underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID illness. 

Statewide, 77 more people died from COVID-19 related illness in the last week, bringing the total to 2,567 deaths.

Hospitalizations remain high with 266 COVID patients hospitalized in Montana.

On Monday, Billings hospitals had 84 COVID inpatients with 26 in the intensive care unit and 20 on ventilators. Of those hospitalized, 67 were unvaccinated and 17 were vaccinated.

In the last week, 3,329 COVID cases were added, bringing the total to 5,911 active cases.

Of the eligible population, which now includes kids five to 11 years-old, 50% of Montanans are fully vaccinated. In the last week, 36,429 new doses have been administered.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance for booster shots Friday. Now those age 18 and older who received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines may get a booster. However, the recommendation may change in the future as more data becomes available.

All those who received the J&J vaccine and are 18 years and older should get a booster shot, according to the CDC.

The most recent state data reports that 3% of Montanans age five to 11 have received one dose of the COVID vaccine. Missoula County led the state with vaccinations in the age group with 13% having received one dose. Deer Lodge reported 10% of the age group partially vaccinated.

Many counties reported that no kids in the age group have been vaccinated.

In the last week, two cases were reported of multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) in children by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. 

MIS, though rare, is occurring in children following a COVID-19 infection. In cases of MIS, tests reveal inflammation in multiple organ systems. It usually results in hospitalizations and multi-specialist consultations, some of which take place outside of Montana.

Those who have been infected with COVID prior to vaccination should still consider getting vaccinated. Immunity from an infection is inconsistent, said Dr. Lee Ann Savio Beers, president of American Academy of Pediatrics in a media briefing with the U.S. surgeon general on Thursday.

Receiving a vaccine after infection will only boost immunity, Savio Beers said.

Vaccination mandates for health care workers are still a go, with a Dec. 6 deadline for a first dose despite a lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s mandate led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

The mandate applies to about 400,000 Montanans working in health care, according to data from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

The recommendation for vaccination and boosters among health care workers comes as emerging evidence shows that vaccine effectiveness against COVID is also waning in frontline workers who work in highly transmissible environments.

Since vaccinations became available and COVID positivity rates soared in the state, testing regularly became commonplace among unvaccinated workers especially in long-term care facilities. Testing in place of vaccination, however, is no longer an option under the CMS rule.

“Scientific evidence on testing found that vaccination is a more effective infection control measure,” according to CMS.

Thanksgiving recommendations

With Thanksgiving around the corner and nearly two years of social distancing recommendations down, fully vaccinated families should feel free and safe to celebrate the holidays mask free around the dinner table.

Even kids who have received one shot have gleaned some protection against the virus and can freely celebrate, especially when surrounded by others who are fully vaccinated.

For families with members who are not eligible for vaccination, the fully vaccinated people around them should provide enough protection to keep them safe.

When the majority are vaccinated, those who are not gain some protection. But, Nancy Iversen, director of patient safety and infection control for Billings Clinic, said it’s probably not safe to have any unvaccinated people around someone with a compromised immune system, such as someone with cancer or an autoimmune disease.

“It all depends on who is vaccinated and who isn’t and how large your gatherings are,” Iversen said.

Some of the counties in Montana with the lowest vaccination rates include Garfield, McCone and Powder River counties with 26%, 28% and 29% respectively.

If the majority of members are not vaccinated, Iversen recommends masking, social distancing and avoiding gatherings indoors.

“Get vaccinated to protect those who are unable to be vaccinated. Wear a mask in indoor settings to protect kids who aren’t fully vaccinated for Thanksgiving and avoid travel until fully vaccinated,” Iversen said.

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