Coronavirus cases low but on the rise
Mask mandate unlikely in Madison County for now
Madison County is currently seeing an uptick in Covid-19 cases. Madison County Public Health Department Director Emilie Sayler said she’s seen a number of new confirmed cases in the area, most coming in the last days of July.
According to the Montana Department of Health & Human Resources Madison County’s cumulative Covid case total was 816 as of August 2 with 13 active cases and eight deaths since the start of the pandemic.
A lot of these new cases are related in scope, said Sayler, rather than being tied together via happenstance encounters. “That tells us that these are related to people gathering,” she said. “It’s a risk that we take, getting out in groups right now. So, we expected this risk, and a rise in cases at the end of the summer.”
Sayler said the Delta variant of the coronavirus has been a common concern for callers to her office. The results for sequencing tests targeting the variant are sometimes slow to come through, though. So far four Delta variant cases have been confirmed in Madison County and are not isolated to one area of the large county.
“We feel like people are getting infected by that same variant but in different origins,” said Sayler. “Maybe one party had family visit from a different area, and maybe one party visited somewhere and got it there.”
In response to the rapidly spreading Delta variant U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidelines on July 27, recommending individuals to mask up indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, in areas of the country where “substantial or high transmission” is likely. On August 2 Madison County was in the red, meaning high transmission is likely.
So, does that mean we’ll be seeing another mask mandate in Madison County’s near future? Sayler doesn’t think so. Due to legislative changes to the mask mandate procedures the process is different than when the first county-wide mask mandate was issued.
Before, public health boards could issue an emergency response mandate via a special public meeting. Now, the public health board must request the mandate through county commissioners’ approval.
Sayler said she currently has no plans to request a mask mandate, and instead, she and her team are focusing on providing vaccine education – according to the MDH&HS 42% of eligible Madison County residents are fully vaccinated, 48% statewide – as well as guiding residents on how to play it safe.
“We hope that people will continue to disinfect their hands, maybe try to social distance a little bit, and consider whether they really need to go gather with a large group of people,” said Sayler, advising people to take some conservative measures right now.
And, said Sayler, if someone wants to wear a mask, now would be a good time, “If you see someone wearing one, just respect that they have chosen to do so. And if you’re not ready for the vaccine, we understand you might need more time, but in exchange for that we’re just going to have to ask to continue some social distancing and maybe some additional disinfection in places like group gatherings and at school.”
Sayler said she’s heard concerns from a number of people who have been holding off getting the vaccine, citing the rapid issuing of the vaccine as a reason to wait and see what side effects might arise. She hopes her office can help quell those fears since 97% of recent hospitalizations across the country are among the unvaccinated.
Madison County has seen four confirmed breakthrough cases of Covid-19 in fully vaccinated individuals, out of a total of 3,266 people. Those with confirmed breakthrough infections had minor symptoms, said Sayler, and were tested via employment, travel or contact tracing measures.
“Vaccination is going to be a big tool for us to try to mitigate these severe infections,” said Sayler. As of August 2, two Madison County residents are hospitalized with the virus. Results to determine if these two cases are related to the Delta variant are not yet available.
While cases are on the rise locally, numbers are at a manageable level that allows the public health department to perform intensive contact tracing measures to curb the spread and provide the resources needed for individuals dealing with the virus.
Sayler said her team has also reached out to the county’s schools with offers to assist as they review their back-to-school plans and provide resources to help mitigate the spread in schools, “Because now we are only a few weeks out from our students returning to class, and we’re suddenly seeing these new cases.”
Despite an uptick in cases, Sayler said the numbers are mostly related to a few small outbreaks. “When you have these little outbreaks, we reach out to whoever is affected and try to offer them resources for a quick, active response,” she said. “That really helps mitigate the spread, keeps the numbers down, and the smaller numbers we have the less likely they are going to reach the high-risk individuals within the community.”
Anyone with questions or seeking advice related to Covid-19 is urged to contact the MCPHD at 406-843-4295.
For more information on case and vaccination numbers in Montana visit https://montana.maps.arcgis.com/ apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=7c34f3412536439491adcc2103421d4b.