BILLINGS — To reconcile the Yellowstone County COVID-19 case numbers, 209 cases stretching back to October 2020 were added to the case totals over four days last week, Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton told the Billings City Council Monday night.
The total had to be reconciled due to a lapse in reporting between testing labs and the state. Felton said once a test comes back positive, the lab notifies public health so its staff can follow up with contact tracing. Then the lab sends the numbers to the state to be added to the state dashboard.
“Those are real cases. They need to be put in the count. The only way to put them in the count is to add them in as a new case on a particular day. It’s not that they weren’t real. They really didn’t have much impact currently because they were old enough to where they have all been investigated," Felton said.
Felton said a majority of the people with reconciled cases are out of isolation. All of the 209 cases were also opened and closed, so they were never added to the county's total of active cases for the week ending Jan. 30.
On Monday night, the state listed 15,466 cumulative cases of COVID-19 in Yellowstone County. Felton didn't say if that number included the 209 cases in question, and the RiverStone Health website figures do not include these cases as of Monday night.
Felton said the weekly numbers will go back to normal next week. When you don't account for the reconciled cases, the week ending Jan. 30 was very similar to the previous week.
Without the reconciled cases, the county is at 23 new average cases per day per 100,000 population in a one-week period, which is within three cases of the average seen last week.
Overall totals from December to January are trending lower, even with the 209 reconciled cases, Felton said. December saw about 2,700 new cases in Yellowstone County, while January had about 1,600 new cases, Felton said.
Felton also gave an update on the COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution. On Monday, county public health reported receiving 2,450 first doses of vaccine, the biggest allocation since the vaccine first arrived in December 2020.
Felton reiterated information about how to get the vaccine at one of three Billings medical facilities: Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and RiverStone Health.
Billings Clinic will be administering the vaccine on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. For an appointment, call 406.435.5744. Telephone scheduling for new vaccination appointments is available Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon or until appointments are filled. If you are a Billings Clinic patient, you can schedule an appointment through PatientConnect at www.billingsclinic.com/patientconnect. [billingsclinic.com]
St. Vincent Healthcare will hold COVID-19 vaccine clinics on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. For the fastest and easiest experience, go to Vaccine Notification Sign Up form [linkprotect.cudasvc.com] at sclhealth.org/vaccineform [linkprotect.cudasvc.com]. You will be notified when a vaccine appointment is available. For people without internet access, call 406.237.7050 to schedule an appointment. The phone line will be open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from 10-11 a.m. Once appointments are filled, callers will hear a recorded COVID-19 vaccine clinic message.
To schedule a vaccination appointment at RiverStone Health Public Health for Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, log on to https://forms.gle/hT4aGVcq67rfThPp7. People without internet access can call 406.651.6596. Callers will receive a recorded message once appointments have been filled.
At the start of the Council work session, Mayor Bill Cole urged the public to remain vigilant with their COVID-19 mitigation procedures like masking, social distancing and staying home when you are sick. Cole said he's been seeing more and more people without masks and some businesses that have taken down their signs and have been mingling patrons closely together.
Cole said multiple COVID-19 variants have been identified in the country that no one exactly knows how the vaccine will react with, and roughly 3,100 people die a week in the United States from COVID-19. Those are reasons to remain cautious, Cole said.
"I encourage that we all remain vigilant and that we continue to do what we know will slow the spread of COVID-19, but also these variants and also even the flu. Wear that mask, keep your distance while indoors, reduce your contact with nonfamily members and if you do have any sort of symptoms, don’t go out and don’t go to work and get tested as soon as you can," Cole said.