County sees spike in COVID-related deaths

by SCOT HEISEL
Lake County Leader | November 4, 2020 12:00 PM

The number of Lake County deaths attributed to COVID-19 complications reached seven this week, as of Tuesday morning. Three deaths — all adult men — were reported between Thursday and Monday, and six of the county’s fatalities have been announced since Oct. 16.

The most recent death was that of a man in his 50s, according to Lake County Public Health. All others have been men in their 60s to 90s, and one woman in her 70s.

Some of the deaths are part of an outbreak, but most are unrelated, according to Emily Colomeda, health services director at Lake County Public Health. Additional details on the deaths are being withheld to protect the privacy of patients and their families.

“We cannot stress enough to be hyper aware of any symptoms,” Colomeda said Tuesday. “Many of our cases tell us they thought it was just a cold or allergies, and it turns out to be COVID-19. We also want to discourage social gatherings like birthday parties and weddings where there is a higher risk of exposure to each other. We need the entire community's cooperation to stay vigilant in the recommendations to physically distance, wear masks when near others, and wash your hands often. We understand people are tired of this virus (believe me, no one feels that more than we do), but we must work together and be diligent in our efforts.”

Lake County Sheriff Don Bell said Tuesday that an outbreak at the county’s detention center had affected a total of seven inmates. Bell announced four positive cases among inmates in mid-October. He said the most recent cases were the result of inmates who had already been infected being brought into the jail. Two staff members also test positive, and one remains in quarantine.

“We have a great staff who came together in a tight spot to keep things going,” Bell said.

Many of the county’s cases have come in the 20-29 age group, according to data provided by Public Health. As of Friday the county had 679 cases, with approximately 110 among those age 20-29. The 40-49 and 50-59 age groups are the next highest.

So far 368 Lake County cases are among females, who account for 54.2% of all cases. As might be expected, the bulk of all cases are in Polson (about 250) and Ronan (about 150), with St. Ignatius the third-highest town at nearly 50.

Lake County’s three highest spikes in single-day confirmed cases came in October: 40 on Oct. 19, 34 on Oct. 13 and 33 on Oct. 26. The county reported Friday that six COVID-19 patients were being treated at local hospitals.

Statewide, Montana set a new single-day high mark with 1,063 confirmed cases on Friday, and 34,252 cases had been confirmed as of Tuesday. The Department of Health and Human Services website (dphhs.mt.gov) on Tuesday reported 215 active cases and 645 total cases for Lake County. The state’s data have tended to lag behind the county’s.

Nearly every school in the county has reported at least one confirmed case. The state data on Lake County schools shows 43 cases on Oct. 28, including eight at Salish Kootenai College. That’s an increase of five total cases from the Oct. 21 update. Among K-12 schools, Arlee and Charlo elementary schools, and Ronan Middle School have the most with five cases each. Ronan High School has had four cases. At least one case at each of those schools was reported within the last 14 days, according to the state.

When cases are identified, districts initiate contact tracing and typically send out either a mass text message or a notification letter to an entire grade level or a specific class, depending on the situation. The notifications inform parents and teachers that if they haven’t been contacted by health officials, they can assume they were not exposed. Those who have been exposed are subject to isolation measures.