MISSOULA — After a relatively quiet couple of months on the pandemic front, COVID is once again making headlines as new variants ripple through the country, vaccination rates drop, and questions about things like booster shots are still unanswered.
According to Missoula County health officer D’Shane Barnett, we’re not out of the woods yet. “We are not at a place yet where we can sit back and say we don't have to worry about COVID."
In just the last few days, Missoula County confirmed its first case of the Delta variant -- a newly identified version of the coronavirus.
“The data is showing that the Delta variant is highly contagious,” said Barnett. “It's more contagious than the strains we were dealing with last fall, and so we have a strain that has the potential to make people more severely sick, and we need to take that seriously.”
Here’s the good news, if you’ve already been vaccinated, Barnett assures you that you’re in pretty good shape. “The vaccine, even if it doesn't fully stop you from getting COVID, it can keep you from getting much more sick.”
Looking at the stats, 53% of Missoula County’s entire population -- eligible and non-eligible residents -- have been fully vaccinated.
The numbers look even more promising if you’re focusing on the eligible.
“65% of the eligible population has received at least one dose, so we are leading the state, as far as getting vaccine doses into people's arms,” said Barnett. “That being said, our goal is 75% of the entire community and we're at 53%, so we absolutely have room to grow.”
According to Barnett, there’s one demographic that isn't pulling its weight. “Right now, individuals 29-years and under are absolutely our least vaccinated.”
With a new school year on the horizon, Barnett hopes to see those unvaccinated individuals step up and contribute to the county’s goal of herd immunity. If not for themselves, for their more vulnerable neighbors.
“Maybe not right this second, but in the next couple months, once school starts, once activities, sports, theater, all of those things start back up again, we are gearing up now to respond to what we expect will be an uptick in COVID infections.”
The Health Department's mass vaccination clinic in the former Lucky's Market at the Southgate Mall is accepting walk-ups for COVID-19 vaccines 7 days a week, and the Health Department continues hosting pop-up vaccine clinics across town.
You can go to missoulainfo.com for all those details.
The Montana COVID-19 tracking website shows 48% of Montana's eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That's equal to just over 438,000 residents. Additionally, 882,000 total doses have been administered since the vaccine became available.