First COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Montana, several Great Falls providers awaiting shipments

Due to a system upgrade over the weekend with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, no new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Monday.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any new cases and daily totals impacted by the system upgrade will be reported in the following days according to DPHHS.

“The upgrade required the system to be shut down all day, so no cases could be reported to the state for today’s update,” wrote DPHHS on its website. “Cases will be added in the coming days as local public health departments catch up with a data entry.”

Montana has averaged about 796 new cases a day since Monday, Dec. 7. Cascade County has averaged nearly 73 new cases a day on the same timeline.

A hospital in Billings was the first in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, according to the Associated Press. The hospital’s frontline staff will be prioritized to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

Ten healthcare facilities in Montana’s seven largest communities are set to receive a total of 9,750 doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer. The Great Falls Clinic, Benefis Health System and the Indian Family Health Clinic will be among those locally receiving the vaccine this week.

“Thanks to hard work of Americans across the country, the first COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Montana and is ready for distribution,” wrote Sen. Jon Tester in a statement. “When the sun rises tomorrow, Montana’s frontline health care workers will start receiving the first doses of the vaccine, marking an extraordinary milestone after many months of hardship and sacrifice.”

Both of Montana’s senators have advocated for the COVID-19 vaccine in their home state. Sen. Steve Daines and his wife both participated in the Pfizer trail in an effort to build confidence and trust in a COVID-19 vaccine. Daines said he tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies after the blind trial.

“Today, the first COVID-19 vaccine was delivered to Montana and administered in the U.S. This day would not have been possible without American innovation, Operation Warp Speed, and the dedication from top scientists and the Trump administration,” Daines said in a statement Monday. “I’m proud to have secured the initial $10 billion that helped make this modern medical miracle possible, and I will continue working to ensure all Montana communities get access.”

President Donald Trump has also praised Daines for his work securing funding for a vaccine and prioritizing its development saying: “He’s been right at the forefront.”

Tester has also fought to secure funding for vaccine research. Last week he pressed officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop a distribution plan for veterans and VA staff.

Both Daines and Tester have received donations to their campaigns from Pfizer, according to a campaign contributions trackers from Kaiser Health News that tracks donations from pharmaceutical companies to those running for congress.

Tester has received a total of $48,000 in campaign donations from Pfizer since the 2007-2008 election cycle, he did not receive any financial support from the company in the 2019-2020 election cycle as of May 2020.

Daines has received a total of $18,500 in campaign donations from Pfizer since the 2007-2008 election cycle and received $12,500 from the company in the 2019-2020 election cycle as of May 2020.

According to KHN, Pfizer is the largest donor in most congressional election cycles and has contributed to 110 Democrats and 115 Republicans. Pfizer has outspent other pharmaceutical companies in four of the past seven election cycles, giving over $9 million.

Big Horn County announced that it experienced its 56th death of a resident due to complications from COVID-19. The deceased is reportedly a woman in her 80s who was hospitalized prior to her death.

The county has reported eight deaths in the past seven days.

“The County’s fatality rate remains at 2.7%, however it is significantly higher for those age 70 and older at 18.4%,” wrote Big Horn County in a press release on Monday.

Montana’s coronavirus cases have been trending down, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data the state added 5,575 new cases which is down 10.4% from the previous week.

U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams joined Gov. Steve Bullock for a press conference last week where the two offered Montanans optimism with the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon and Montana’s daily COVID-19 cases trending in a more positive direction.

The USA TODAY Network Analysis also found that cases fell in 39 counties, with the best declines observed in Richland, Gallatin and Lewis and Clark counties.

The state has also seen a decrease in its positivity rate. In the last week, the share COVID-19 tests in Montana came back positive was 15.5% compared to 16.7% from the week before. There were nearly 1,200 fewer tests administered last week as compared to the week before.

The World Health Organization says places should be conducting enough tests to have fewer than 5% coming back positive. Places where the percentage is higher could struggle to complete contact tracing soon enough to prevent spread of the virus.

Cascade County weekly COVID-19 report as of Dec. 11, 2020.
Last Friday, the Cascade City-County Health Department reported that their testing capacity remains steady from the previous week at a level defined as “needs beginning to outpace capacity.” This week, health department capacity, case investigation and healthcare system capacity dropped from “stressed” or “critical” conditions to “needs beginning to outpace capacity.

Disease surveillance, regional impact, as well as the weekly averages for COVID-19 case rates and the positivity rates reported being at “stressed operations, critical concerns,” as of last Friday.