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Western MT health officials anticipate another COVID-19 surge

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Posted at 8:28 AM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 10:28:28-05

MISSOULA — We’re halfway through the holidays and people are gathering to celebrate, but as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rear its ugly head.

“We're definitely starting to see a pretty big uptick in cases," Missoula County COVID-19 Incident Commander Cindy Farr told MTN News.

According to Farr, this uptick is reflected in the case incident rate, which has jumped to a 7-day average of 30 cases per 100,000 people this week.

“If you remember a week ago, we were down in like the low teens. And so we're definitely seeing that big bump in cases right now," Farr said.

According to Farr, a pattern has emerged that predicts when a spike will happen locally: three to four weeks after another area of the country experiences one.

“We were seeing it on the East Coast, particularly about a month ago," Farr said.

But there’s one major distinction with that spike — it was just delta variant related. Now, Montanans have two contagious strains to grapple with.

“It takes about a week after a sample is drawn to actually go through that sequencing process. So we are really not sure how much omicron that we have, because it's so early in that time period," Farr said.

So far, Fyr Diagnostics in Missoula has just sequenced one case of the omicron variant in the county, confirmed last week. Farr hasn’t yet received an update on how the individual contracted the strain, whether it was via community spread or travel related.

Meanwhile, hospitals across Western Montana are gearing up for the anticipated spike.

“We're not seeing an uptick quite yet but anticipate seeing more cases soon, likely due to the holidays and gatherings," said Bitterroot Health Director of Marketing Christina Voyles. "But for now, we're the same as we have been, still seeing cases come in.”

“We’ve experienced a small increase in COVID patients but have not experienced a surge at this time," Community Medical Center’s Director of Marketing & Community Relations Megan Condra noted.

Condra added that hospital admissions are normal for this time of year and that ICU capacity changes rapidly.

MTN News also reached out to St. Patrick Providence Hospital and did not receive a comment for this story.