More Montanans were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday than at any point previously in the pandemic, according to data from the state.
There were 510 Montanans reported hospitalized Wednesday morning, topping the previous high of 506 last November, before a vaccine was available.
A person’s vaccine status plays a strong role in the likelihood of them falling ill with COVID-19 and being hospitalized. A report from the state Department of Public Health and Human Services found from Feb. 7 to Sept. 4, nearly 90% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated.
Vaccines became widely available for Montanans after the start of the year. Since February, just 10.5% of the state’s new cases were among those vaccinated and 11.4% of those hospitalized were fully vaccinated.
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From July to September, cases were 4.4 times higher for those not fully vaccinated and hospitalizations were 5.1 times higher.
“These data indicate that COVID-19 vaccination is the best protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and at preventing severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as hospitalization and death,” the report found.
In recent weeks, hospitals around the state have warned of the strain COVID-19 patients have placed on their resources, with St. Peter's Health in Helena saying in mid-September it was using crisis standards of care. Hospitals have reported not being able to accept patients who need care for non-COVID-19 emergencies because of the increased demand on intensive care units.
Nearly 150 members of the Montana National Guard have been sent to hospitals and other facilities that requested assistance, and at least eight locations have asked for extensions for Guard members to stay longer.
Hospitalization numbers have dramatically increased since the start of summer. According to the state's data, there were 56 hospitalizations during the week that ended June 4.
By the week ending Aug. 6, that grew to 128 and represented a 35% increase from the week prior. That number reached 248 the week ending Sept. 3 and was 419 by the week ending Oct. 1.
A monthly epidemiology report produced by the state also noted the increase in hospitalizations.
“Average weekly hospitalizations due to COVID-19 peaked mid-November 2020, during the same time as the greatest numbers of new cases were reported,” the report from Oct. 1 read. “Average hospitalizations have steadily declined since December 2020. Hospitalizations remained stable in spring 2021 but have begun to increase again in July 2021 and continue to climb.”
There were 86 deaths reported the week ending Sept. 24.
The delta variant, which overtook the state as the dominant variant in July, has led to a spike in cases and hospitalizations among both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, according to state data. By July, the delta variant made up more than half of the samples sequenced in the state, and that rose to nearly all samples by August.
Montana has lagged the rest of the nation when it comes to vaccine uptake. About 54% of the eligible population of those ages 12 and up are vaccinated in the state. That equates to about 49% of the state's total population vaccinated, compared to the U.S. rate of about 57%.