Madison County covid-related deaths rise to 19
Newly tallied deaths occurred over eight-month period
F or those keeping tabs on the number of covid-related deaths in Madison County, last week the state’s official tracking system marked a jump from 14 to 19.
Those five deaths did not, however, occur in some rapid-paced, recent jump in mortality. Instead, the losses of life correlate with a Nov. 23 Madison County Public Health Department audit of unconfirmed Covid-19 related deaths.
MCPHD Director Emilie Sayler performed the audit, finding additional county resident deaths that occurred in March, April and October of this year. Several of those earlier deaths occurred out of state, a scenario that can play out when a seasonal resident claims Madison County as their primary residence. Those out of state deaths are not reported directly to Madison County, so Sayler must do some extra digging to find that information.
Sayler’s most recent investigation also found that one pending Madison County covid-related death was not covid-related after all, despite what the death certificate stated.
Montana’s Covid-19 tracking system offers a plethora of county-specific data on cases, deaths, vaccination rates and more. It’s a tool Sayler uses to compare Madison County to other, similarly populated areas – Beaverhead, Blaine and Powell counties being three examples.
As of Nov. 29, Beaverhead had 22 covid-related deaths, Blaine had 27 and Powell had 21. Despite Madison County having a significant population of residents 65 and above, the county’s lower death count is one indication, said Sayler, of Madison County’s residents seeking healthcare when they need it most.
“Unfortunately, that increase in five deaths does represent the loss of five residents,” said Sayler, “It is tragic to see that loss each time.”
Of the 19 deaths in Madison County, most were in their 60s and 70s. The youngest death one included in the recent audit – a 50-year-old man who passed away from covid in April of this year.
A majority of Madison County’s covid losses, said Sayler, have been people seeking treatment too late. “These people tried to take care of their own illness, and hunker down at home,” said Sayler. “We’re used to being independent and self-sufficient when we live this rural, and I think some people are trying to do that with covid. But then they’re a little too far down the road when they seek help.”
Looking back at covid in 2021
Sayler started at MCPHD in May of 2021 – a time of relative calm on the covid front with little to no active cases to speak of. It stayed that way until August, when the fair and back to school gatherings, combined with the more-contagious Delta variant, brought the uptick in cases. Outbreaks in nursing homes and workplaces followed in September; a steady influx of positive covid tests continued into October and early November.
The last three weeks, said Sayler, have seen a huge decline in cases. As of Nov. 29, there were just 16 active cases. Last week the county tallied just 15 new cases in a seven-day period, a welcome change from September’s spike which saw up to 30 new cases in a day.
This lull comes as a new variant, Omicron, was announced as a variant of concern on Nov. 26. Sayler said it’s too soon for her department to offer insight on the mutation. She’s now waiting for input from state health officials who will interpret the situation and pass guidance on to county-level health departments.
“We’re just anxiously awaiting that interpretation,” said Sayler. “Then we’ll have better answers to those big questions, which are, ‘How infectious is this?’ and ‘How efficient will the vaccine be with this new variant?’”