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29 COVID deaths added to Yellowstone County total after review of death certificates

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State data recorded 104 deaths from COVID-19 related illness in the last week. And in Yellowstone County, after reviewing death certificates for the period beginning Sept. 1, 2021, RiverStone Health has identified an additional 29 deaths from COVID-19 related illness that were not previously reported.

On Monday, state data reflected 2,183 deaths. The death certificate reconciliation will be reflected on the state health department’s online map this week.

In addition, four Yellowstone County residents died of COVID-19 related illness in a local hospital over the weekend. With the 33 deaths reported Monday, Yellowstone County’s pandemic death toll now stands at 387 lives lost since April 2020.

“With these additional death reports from September and October, our hearts go out to our many neighbors who have lost loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said John Felton, Yellowstone County health officer and RiverStone Health president and CEO, in a press release. “Let us resolve to do all we can to prevent future COVID-19 illness and death by getting vaccinated and encouraging everyone we love to get vaccinated.”

Data reconciliation is a standard step for ensuring accuracy in public health information. Billings hospitals generally report patient deaths quickly, but reporting of deaths in other locations doesn’t occur until death certificates are filed with the county and are reviewed for cause of death. Sometimes, there is a delay in figuring out where a person last resided to determine if he or she was a resident of Yellowstone County.

The only deaths attributed to Yellowstone County and reported by RiverStone Health are those of county residents. The deaths of people from outside the county who die in Billings hospitals are attributed to their counties of residence.

Hospitalizations have been holding fairly steady with 449 active hospitalizations in the state. Last week saw record-breaking hospitalizations with 510 COVID patients reported on Wednesday. The previous high of 506 hospitalizations was recorded on Nov. 20, 2020, before any vaccines were available.

The state now has 11,109 active cases, a slight decrease from the previous week of 12,539 cases. In the last week, 7,261 new cases were reported.

Yellowstone County has the highest number of COVID cases with Missoula, Flathead and Cascade counties following.

On Oct. 17, about 80% of the state’s intensive care unit space was filled with 122 COVID patients and 69 non-COVID patients. COVID patients in need of ICU level care continues to increase with an average of 121.4 patients in the ICU per day, the highest seven day average recorded in the state’s surges.

In Yellowstone County, 40 COVID patients were in the ICU Monday and 29 were on ventilators.

Monday marked St. Vincent Healthcare’s highest COVID positive inpatient count during the most recent surge with 71 COVID patients. During the 2020 fall surge, the hospital topped out at 80 COVID in-patients, said Jenn Graves, senior director of clinical and support services.

COVID test

St. Vincent Healthcare and RiverStone are once again holding drive-up COVID testing on North 28th Street.

Over the last week, Graves has focused on ramping up testing capabilities as RiverStone Health’s free community COVID testing has relocated to St. V’s parking lot at the corner of 11th Ave N. and N. Broadway.

The tests will be processed at St. V’s lab in Billings, meaning results will be available within 24 to 48 hours.

Four COVID-19 deaths this weekend at local hospitals include:

• A woman in her 60s, Oct. 15, unvaccinated with underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 60s, Oct. 15, vaccinated with underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 70s, Oct. 16, vaccinated with underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 70s, Oct. 17, vaccinated with underlying health conditions.

Sixteen COVID-19 deaths at long-term care facilities in September and October including:

• A man, in his 70s, Sept. 4, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 60s, Sept. 7, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 80s, Sept. 8, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 90s, Sept. 10, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 80s, Sept. 13, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 80s, Sept. 17, vaccinated, unknown health conditions.

• A woman in her 80s, Sept. 17, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 70s, Sept. 20, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 90s, Sept. 21, vaccinated, unknown health conditions.

• A man in his 70s, Sept. 24, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 90s, Sept. 25, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 90s, Sept. 25, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 80s, Sept. 25, unknown vaccination status, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 60s, Sept. 29, vaccinated with underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 80s, Oct. 3, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 80s, Oct. 3, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

Four previously unreported COVID-19 deaths occurred at Billings hospitals include:

• A woman in her 80s, Sept. 1, vaccinated, unknown health conditions.

• A woman in her 50s, Sept. 26, unknown vaccination status, unknown health conditions.

• A man in his 60s, Oct. 4, unvaccinated, with underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 50s, Oct. 6, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

Nine COVID-19 deaths occurred at private residences including:

• A man in his 70s, Sept. 4, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 90s, Sept. 6, vaccinated, unknown health conditions.

• A man in his 60s, Sept. 8, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 50s, Sept. 11, unvaccinated, unknown health conditions.

• A man in his 70s, Sept. 16, vaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 80s, Sept. 16, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 70s, Oct. 2, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A man in his 90s, Oct. 5, unvaccinated, underlying health conditions.

• A woman in her 60s, Oct. 6, unvaccinated, unknown health conditions.

Billings Clinic has ramped up efforts to provide monoclonal antibody treatment to those in the early days of COVID infection. The first criteria to receive the therapy is to have a positive COVID test, said Billings Clinic infectious disease expert Dr. Neil Ku.

When the summer surge settled into Montana, Billings Clinic recognized the increased need for the antibody therapy that has the potential to decrease severity of COVID symptoms. Since Sept. 7, 2021, Billings Clinic has provided 632 monoclonal antibody treatments.

The treatment works by introducing antibodies into the blood stream intravenously to hopefully reduce the risk of hospitalization.

“The therapy doesn’t prevent the outcome,” said Ku. “But the majority of patients who get it tend to feel better and have a shorter course of illness.”

Ku stressed that not getting COVID to start with by social distancing, masking and vaccination is a much better plan than relying on the monoclonal antibody treatment.

The treatment is most effective in people who have been symptomatic for five days or less, but it is available for those within the first 10 days of infection.

Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare were caring for 145 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Monday, including 116 who weren’t vaccinated. Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that reduce the risk of infection, illness and death are available to everyone age 12 and older from local pharmacies, clinics and hospitals.

RiverStone Health will hold these free, walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinics:

• Tuesday, Oct. 19, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., City College, Tech Building, Room A017.

• Wednesday, Oct. 20, noon to 2 p.m. Billings Public Library Community Room.

• Thursday, Oct. 21, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., North Park.

• Friday, Oct. 22, 11 am. to 1 p.m., Terry Park, 511 Custer Ave.

• Oct. 27, noon to 2 p.m., Billings Public Library Community Room.

Clinics listed above will offer first and second doses and booster shots of Pfizer vaccine, along with first and second doses of Moderna and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to people 18 and older. Third doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are available to immune-compromised people.

A limited number of vaccination appointments are available from the RiverStone Health Immunization Clinic, phone 406-247-3382. More vaccination information is posted at covid.riverstonehealth.org.

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