Coronavirus cases are surging in Jefferson County, mirroring a statewide trend driven by low vaccination rates and the delta variant that gave the state a 55% increase in per-capita cases over the past two weeks—the highest in the nation in that time.
On Monday, the Jefferson County Health Department released a report showing 27 new cases since the prior Thursday, Sept. 16, and 41 active cases that day. No county residents were hospitalized on Monday—a decrease from two last week—and the county's death toll remained at nine, following a death reported in late August.
Active cases on Monday were spread across all ages but concentrated in people younger than 50, with 12 cases in people 19 or younger, five cases in people in their 20s, seven cases each in people in their 30s and 40s, five cases in people in their 50s, two cases in people in their 60s and three cases in people in their 70s.
Those figures were down slightly from last Thursday's report, which showed an increase of 13 new cases since the previous report on Sept. 13 and a total of 57 active cases that day, concentrated heavily among people younger than 50, with 22 of the cases in people younger than 20.
The Health Department also reported a running tally of total cases reported in county schools since classes started. The figures reported on Monday reflected the total number of cases at each school so far this year, not the number of active cases at a school on Monday.
Last Thursday, Montana City School had two cases—that figure doubled to four by Monday.
Clancy School had three cases last Thursday and increased to five on Monday.
The department reported last Thursday that Boulder Elementary School, including Head Start, had eight cases total. This Monday, the department reported Head Start separate from Boulder Elementary. Head Start had logged three cases by Monday, and Boulder Elementary had recorded six—totalling nine cases in the shared building.
Basin School had yet to record a case on Monday.
Whitehall Elementary School had 12 cases last Thursday, which remained unchanged on Monday.
Whitehall High School had yet to record a case on Monday.
Cardwell School had recorded four cases by last Thursday, which remained unchanged on Monday.
Jefferson High School had seen two cases so far this year as of last Thursday, and that figure doubled to four cases on Monday.
Overall, county schools experienced an increase of 10 new cases total among students and staff from last Thursday to this Monday. Of 42 total cases in schools reported on Monday, 34 were among students and eight were among staff. The report did not specify the breakdown of student and staff cases in each school, or the number of active cases in schools as of Monday.
Case increases and active case totals in Jefferson County and in Montana are approaching levels not seen since December 2020, according to data compiled by The Monitor. Health officials and medical professionals in Jefferson County, and at the state and federal levels, have stated since the rise in cases began in late July that increasing case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths are being driven primarily by people who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
According to data compiled by the New York Times, Montana's rate of new daily cases per 100,000 people increased by 55% in the two weeks leading up to Monday, during which time the state reported an average of 858 new cases each day.
As of Tuesday, 52% of eligible Montanans had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to state figures, and in Jefferson County, fewer than half of eligible residents—about 49%—were vaccinated against the coronavirus. Nationwide, about 55% of people were fully vaccinated as of Monday, according to data from the Mayo Clinic.
According to the county Health Department, that meant that, on Monday, 5,281 of Jefferson County's 10,702 eligible residents were fully vaccinated.
At the beginning of the accelerating rise in cases in late July, Jefferson County Public Health Supervisor Pam Hanna said that out of the 30 cases that were reported between July 27 and Aug. 10, 26 were in unvaccinated people. She said that the four vaccinated people with "breakthrough" cases had milder symptoms that didn’t last as long as symptoms in unvaccinated people.
“We do expect to see breakthrough cases, especially because we are seeing variants,” she said, because the vaccine is somewhat less effective in preventing illness from variants of the virus. The delta variant now accounts for the vast majority of cases nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Health Department recommends individuals get the coronavirus vaccine, which has been shown to be safe and effective in preventing infection, Hanna said. She said the department has access to all three vaccines—Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson—and can administer vaccines by walk-in or by appointment at the Boulder Clinic as well as satellite clinics in Whitehall and Clancy. The Clancy clinic is open Friday afternoons, and the Whitehall clinic is open Tuesday afternoons.