MISSOULA — On Friday, Sept. 10, Missoula County health officials were notified that a resident aged 20 to 39 died of COVID-19. This is the first young adult in Missoula County to pass away from the virus and the 13th death in the past six weeks alone. To protect the individual’s privacy, the health department will not release the individual’s vaccination status or health/comorbidity status at this time. 

“We know that the Delta variant is a game-changer. Our hearts go out to the family of this individual, and to everyone who has lost someone they love due to COVID. We know we have a long way to go in fighting this virus, but the health department will continue to do everything we can to provide our community with the knowledge and resources to get us through this,” said Health Officer D’Shane Barnett. 

Furthermore, new cases broke the 100-case threshold, at 114 new cases Friday morning. This is the first time since the spike of the Delta variant that new cases in one day totaled over 100. Local hospitals say 40 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is just shy of the record set last November. The Delta variant is causing more severe illness in younger, unvaccinated individuals than the original strain that circulated this past winter. These are solemn reminders that this pandemic is far from over. 

Missoula County health officials continue to urge residents to make the best choices for themselves and their community. Health officials recommend masking in public spaces, maintaining at minimum six feet of social distance, and good hygiene practice such as hand washing and sanitizing in addition to getting vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Troubling rise in new cases

On Saturday, Sept. 11, Missoula County saw 157 new cases, its highest report of daily new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. The weekend total, which the health department reports on Monday mornings, came in at 221 new cases. On Tuesday, 121 new cases were recorded bringing Missoula County just 31 cases shy of passing its record for active cases recorded at 1,217 on Nov. 21, 2020. If this trend continues, Missoula County will likely break its record high of active cases Wednesday morning.

Despite having the highest vaccination rate in the state, Health Officer D’Shane Barnett says not enough residents have stepped up to help with herd immunity, especially younger age groups.

“Just over 52 percent of 20 to 29-year-olds have received at least one shot, which is nowhere near herd immunity,” explains Barnett. “It is no coincidence that this age group is making up the majority of our cases right now.”

Health officials also say the community needs to do their part when it comes to other basic mitigation measures, as the health department no longer has the authority to put many of the measures that slowed the spread last year into place.

“We’re getting troubling calls from employees who say their employers have asked them to come to work despite testing positive for COVID-19, having symptoms or being identified as a close contact. That will only exasperate the situation further,” says COVID-19 Incident Commander Cindy Farr.

Health officials say if the community works as a team, we can get this surge under control faster and help alleviate the pressure on Missoula’s hospital system. Business owners can voluntarily reduce capacity at their businesses, ask patrons to wear masks, practice social distancing, increase sanitization and ask employees to stay home when sick. Individuals can wear masks in public, keep their social circles small, wash their hands frequently and also stay home when sick.

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