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Montana surpasses 78,000 cases on Wednesday, Fort Harrison VA receives first COVID-19 vaccines



Montana added 590 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the state’s cumulative case count over 78,000. 

Of the 78,522 total cases, 69,555 are recovered and 8,053 remain active. There are 251 people who are now hospitalized out of 3,360 total hospitalizations, according to the state website

Montana added 19 deaths overnight, bringing the total to 914 fatalities related to the respiratory illness.

The state has administered 766,196 tests for the coronavirus, which is 3,342 more than Tuesday.

Cascade County reported 32 new cases. The county now has 1,467 active cases and 4,929 recoveries.

The Cascade City-County Health Department reported on Wednesday that the county has experienced four more COVID-19 related deaths since Dec. 11, bringing the county’s death toll to 95. 

Two females in their 70s and two males in their 70s were among the latest deaths. 

“We are deeply sorry for the families and friends of these individuals, and hope that Cascade County residents can join together to lend them compassion and support, particularly during this holiday season,” wrote the CCHD in a release. 

Yellowstone County reported the highest daily total on Wednesday and posted 113 new cases, there are 2,359 active cases in the county. 

RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County’s public health department, reported two deaths of Yellowstone County residents from COVID-19 related illness, bringing the county’s total to 157 deaths since the pandemic began. 

On Monday, a woman in her 30s died in a Billings hospital, the next day a man in his 80s died in a local hospital as well. 

“Far too many families are spending the holidays this year without someone they love,” said John Felton, Yellowstone County public health officer and RiverStone Health CEO. “We encourage those families and friends to take time for themselves. All yourself to grieve.” 

Other cases in Montana were far below Yellowstone’s Wednesday new case total. Flathead County reported the second highest case count  with 67 new cases, Missoula County reported 64 cases, Lewis and Clark County added 57.

Gallatin County reported 47 cases on Wednesday bringing it to 307 active cases. 

In northcentral Montana, Glacier County added 13 new cases, Hill County reported 11, Phillips County posted 11, Blaine County reported seven, Chouteau County added six and Teton County added five. 

Montana began distributing its first COVID-19 vaccines last week and vaccinations are continuing to roll out across the state with the arrival of the latest vaccine from Moderna. 

On Wednesday morning, the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center in Helena received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine, it plans on distributing the vaccine later today. 

Fort Harrison is one of 113 VA medical centers in the country to receive the first supply of the Moderna vaccine. Sites were chosen based on need for the vaccine according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 1A prioritization and capacity to store the vaccine at cold temperatures. 

“Montana VA Health Care System is excited to have our first shipment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for our health care personnel and our Miles City community living center residents and staff,” said Executive Director, Dr. Judy Hayman. “For over nine months, our health care teams and veterans have adapted time and time again to meet every new challenge during the pandemic.” 

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is reportedly 94% effective in clinical trials. The vaccine is administered in two doses, 28 days apart. The side effects of the vaccine appear similar to those of other vaccines and are short-lived. Common side effects include injection site pain, fatigue, headache and chills. 

Medical experts recommend wearing face coverings, physical distancing and good hygiene even after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. 

“Starting today though, we are going to celebrate that the arrival of the vaccines mark the next phase towards ending the pandemic,” said Hayman. “As our vaccine supplies increase, our ultimate goal is to offer COVID-19 vaccination to all veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.” 

The MTVAHCS care team will reach out to eligible veterans to schedule vaccinations. Veterans can get up-to-date information on the VA’s COVID-19 vaccine webpage

The Montana Nurses Association, Montana Medical Association and Montana Hospital Association issued a joint statement this week regarding COVID-19 vaccination, and the hope it brings to ending the pandemic. 

In the statement, they urge all individuals to receive the vaccine as soon as it is made available to them. They particularly urged health care workers to receive the vaccination and share their experience with others. 

“As nurses, physicians, primary care providers, hospital and health system leaders, we remain committed to supporting the rigorous scientific, evidence-based and regulatory processes that have established a safe and effective vaccine including processes for administering to all who are eligible and choose to get vaccinated,” the groups said in a statement. “We all strive to communicate, along with our state partners, critical information about vaccine availability as it is being released.” 

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