General public should get vaccine by summer

Thursday, December 31, 2020
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A nurse prepares a vial of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for innoculation of local healthcare at Stillwater Billings Clinic last week. (SCN photo by Marlo Pronovost)

Stillwater County healthcare workers and EMS services continued this week to receive the first 100 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, while the county’s elderly population in nursing homes and assisted living centers are being vaccinated by CVS through a special program with the federal government.

Governor Steve Bullock announced Wednesday an adjusted vaccine timeline that has the general public receiving eligible this summer. Bullock announced a phased distribution plan through a press release. He wrote that the adjusted plan that incorporates “the new federal recommendations for allocation to critical groups in Montana and an estimated timeline.”

The updated plan outlines distribution in two Phases — the first of which has three sub-phases (Phases 1a, 1b and 1c). The estimated timeline covers December 2020 through July 2021 and lists which groups are recommended to receive the vaccine in each phase.


Montana has launched Phase 1a, which targets frontline healthcare workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. There are a total of 16,990 healthcare personnel in Montana who had received their first vaccination dose as of Wednesday, according to the press release. This phase was expanded to include healthcare workers with direct patient contact, such as dentists, orthodontists, physical therapists, optometrists, home health workers and others that fit the criteria.


Phase 1b will launch in mid-January and continue through March. This will include an estimated 90,000 people such as those 75 and older, frontline essential workers, people in congregate care and correctional facilities, American Indians and other people of color who may be at elevated risk for contracting the virus.


Expected to launch in mid-March and continue through July, Phase 1c will include 171,000 Montanans in critical groups such as those 65 years and older, people aged 16 to 64 who are at high risk due to underlying medical conditions and essential workers.


The final phase is expected to launch in late spring or early summer for all Montanans ages 16 and older.

All of the above is contingent on vaccine availability.

“It’s important to highlight that expansion to additional groups in Phase 1a and phases later on will vary from community to community depending on vaccine availability and how quickly the vaccines are distributed,” said Bekki Wehner of the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau. “DPHHS is working with local health jurisdictions to monitor vaccine supplies around the state to ensure availability for each target group. As vaccine supplies increase, we’ll be able to allocate them to more and more providers in the coming weeks and months.”

DPHHS is guided by vaccine priority recommendations from the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which recently released expanded guidelines for vaccine allocation to additional critical populations. These recommendations are supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and have only been recently communicated to local health jurisdictions, according to the press release.

So far, more than 34,000 doses from the state allocation have been sent to 10 Montana hospitals in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula, 80 Critical Access Hospitals and Community Health Centers and the three Tribal governments that chose to receive vaccine from the state allocation.

Vaccination also began this week at 300 long-term care facilities around the state, including both nursing homes and assisted living facilities. These vaccinations are being facilitated through a federal government contract with CVS, Walgreens and Big Sky Managed Care Pharmacy.


As of Wednesday, Dec. 30, Stillwater County’s COVID-19 active case count was 33. There have been eight deaths and 502 recovered cases, for a total count of 543. Five residents are hospitalized. Using a population number of 9,698, Stillwater County’s positivity rate would be 5.6 percent.

The positivity rate has seen a gradual increase during the past six weeks, starting at 3.8 percent.


As of Wednesday, 950 Montanans had died from COVID-19 related issues, marking a 1.2 percent death rate of all confirmed cases. Thirty-six deaths have occurred during the last seven days. The week prior, there had been 78 deaths over the course of seven days.

Hospitalization numbers were down for the third consecutive week, sitting at 223 Wednesday. A total of 3,553 people have been hospitalized at some point, which is 4.4 percent of all confirmed cases.

Based on data from the last 186 days, Montana is now averaging 363 new cases per day. On Oct. 1, the average daily new case count was 108.

During a 45-day time period from Nov. 21 through Dec. 31, there was an average of 590 cases per day. That is down from 805.6 cases last week.

The number of recovered cases continues to outpace active cases, at 5,380 and 74,970 respectively. This gap is the largest it has been in several weeks.


Statewide, 786,808 COVID-19 tests have been administered, with 81,300 positive cases.

That is a 10.3 percent positivity rate on those tested, which a a slight increase from last week. Using the population number of 1,068,771, the state positivity rate would be 7.6 percent. That is up from 7.3 percent last week.

There were 629 new cases reported Wednesday and 3,313 tests administered on that day as well.


As of Dec. 29, the state’s COVID-19 Hospital Occupancy and Capacity Status report showed of the largest 10 hospitals in Montana, only one — St. James Healthcare — was at more than 90 percent bed capacity.

Four were between 70 percent and 90 percent bed capacity — Billings Clinic, Benefis Hospitals, Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital and St. Vincent Health Care. The remaining five were below 70 percent bed capacity.

Of the state’s five specialty hospitals, only The Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana in Billings was above 90 percent bed capacity. Shodair Children’s Hospital and Advanced Care Hospital of Montana were between 70 percent and 90 percent.

Of the 50 critical access hospitals, only Prairie Community Hospital was at more than 90 percent capacity, according to the report.


As of Dec. 16, data for students and staff and Montana schools was the same as had been listed last week — 4,269 students and staff tested positive for the virus. Another 2,639 students and staff at 19 universities listed in the state had tested positive, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Service’s School-related COVID cases report.

Approximately 40 students and staff at Stillwater County schools had tested positive.


National numbers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday showed a total of 19,575,927 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and 340,004 deaths.

That is a 1.7 percent death rate in confirmed cases — a slight decrease from last week. Using national population numbers — which range from 328,239,523 to 331,117,471 — the national positivity rate for those tested is approximately 6 percent. That is up from 5.6 percent last week.

Sources for the above information include the CDC, Stillwater Community Health, the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force and the U.S. Census Bureau.