The average number of positive COVID-19 cases in Yellowstone County has dropped to its lowest level since September 2020, with a plan to have a "large" vaccination event next week.

In a press conference today, public health officer John Felton said the daily average of positive cases has dropped below the 25 per 100,000 resident threshold, and children under 18 are accountable for about 14 percent of the total positive cases.

Good news from our local hospitals too. In November, we had a peak of more than 150 patients being hospitalized for COVID-19. Today, there are 30 COVID-19 in-patients in our Yellowstone County hospitals, according to John Felton.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Felton also explained the reason for a spike in COVID-19 deaths during January, after the DPHHS conducted a reconciliation of death certificates. According to Felton, that's when RiverStone Health was notified that 47 Yellowstone County residents died of COVID-19 related illnesses between September 3, 2020 and January 13, 2021. Most of those who died were in "private homes and senior care centers," according to Felton.

Felton also addressed a "misperception" that public health agencies and health care agencies have a financial interest in determining deaths are related to COVID-19. "Nothing could be further from the truth," Felton said. "The only time that deaths are considered related to COVID-19, is when the physician completing the death certificate documents that COVID-19 was the cause of, or the contributing factor to the person's death," said Felton

Yellowstone County COVID-19 education liaisons, who follow up on business complaints regarding non-compliance of public health protocols, checked out 93 complaints and confirmed 30 violations in January. "The team also conducted 474 spot checks of businesses and observed 50 violations of the Governor's mask mandate in January," said John Felton.

Felton said the "spot checks" by education liaisons revealed that the majority of businesses and customers are complying by wearing a mask, but the current trend is going in the wrong direction. "With fewer people wearing masks, this critical preventive measure is less effective at slowing the virus spread and puts more people at risk of getting sick."

Demand for COVID-19 vaccinations has "substantially" outpaced the supply for what the community needs. "We're committed to ensuring that everyone in our community who wants a COVID-19 vaccine receives one," Felton said.
A larger, free community vaccination clinic is currently being planned by RiverStone Health and St. Vincent Healthcare and will take place next week at MetraPark. Details about that event will be announced later this week. The amount of vaccine doses available at this clinic is not yet known, but Felton added that Federal and State leaders are working to "increase vaccine supplies going into communities."
We are all tired of wearing masks, keeping our distance, avoiding large gatherings, and working or studying from home. The virus though, is still in our community and spreading. -John Felton, CEO of RiverStone Health and Yellowstone Co. Public Health Officer
Even though positive COVID-19 cases are decreasing, Felton reminded residents that we still need to "mask, distance, sanitize, wash our hands often, and stay home when we're sick."
John Felton also said he was "thankful" that most Yellowstone County residents are still taking the pandemic very seriously, but said his office still hears from people who say the COVID-19 virus is no worse than the flu. Felton then went on to share the following facts comparing Influenza and COVID-19 in Yellowstone County:
So far in the 2020-2021 flu season, the entire state of Montana has yet to record even one lab confirmed case of influenza. Typically, Yellowstone County flu cases peak in the month of February. In the previous 5 full flu seasons, Yellowstone County recorded a total of 5,502 cases of flu, that resulted in 23 deaths. Since March 2020, 11 months ago, Yellowstone County has confirmed 15,768 cases of COVID-19 in our residents. Nearly three times the total number of confirmed cases of flu in the entire 5 year period, and 228 deaths.

CLICK HERE to see Vaccination Availability for the week of February 8, 2021.
CLICK HERE to view the Yellowstone County COVID-19 dashboard from RiverStone Health.

LOOK: Answers to 30 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

While much is still unknown about the coronavirus and the future, what is known is that the currently available vaccines have gone through all three trial phases and are safe and effective. It will be necessary for as many Americans as possible to be vaccinated in order to finally return to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, and hopefully these 30 answers provided here will help readers get vaccinated as soon they are able.