For seven emergency response medics associated with Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, MT, the rapid spike in coronavirus cases in the state has them at their breaking point.
The 80-year-old hospital system, named after one of Butte’s three ‘copper kings’, has seen the total number of infections double in recent weeks – and the pandemic is only expected to worsen here. approaching winter.
In the last week alone, three residents of Ravalli County – where the hospital is located – have died from coronavirus. All of Stevensville’s schools were forced to close for two weeks and switch to distance learning on Tuesday after not finding enough staff to fill classrooms.
At least four other schools in the county have had to do the same in the past fortnight, including a school where 40% of students had COVID-19 or had been in close contact with someone who had it.
“It’s a real threat, and it’s getting worse by the day – it’s no exaggeration to say that,” the doctors said in a letter to the hospital community on Tuesday. “If this trend continues, our local healthcare resources will be quickly overwhelmed; in fact, it is already starting to happen. We are on the brink of disaster. “
The dire situation in Ravalli County is a microcosm for the state, which has continued to break COVID-19 records. As one of the first states to ease coronavirus restrictions in April, Montana is now struggling to cope with a brewing crisis.
And while a statewide mask mandate was enacted in July, law enforcement has been largely left to local leaders – many of whom lack the resources or support of their constituents. Republicans to do it. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, rejected a recommendation from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which considered Montana a “red zone,” to apply fines for mask failure.
“Now we’re doing it the Montana way here and we’re not going to start pushing the issuance of fines,” Bullock said during a press call in September. “But I think the point here should be pretty clear. We all need to do our part by wearing masks and find ways to encourage others to do the same. “
The future of the state’s response to the deadly virus is more uncertain than ever after Republican Greg Gianforte’s recent victory in the gubernatorial race, ending a 16-year Democratic streak in the state. For his part, the 59-year-old entrepreneur, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has already announced the creation of a COVID-19 task force to curb the outbreak.
“Montana is facing a public health crisis and an economic crisis in the wake of COVID-19 – which I trust the people of Montana to take seriously,” campaigned Gianforte said this month on personal responsibility for state mandates. “I remain my top priority to work together to protect the most vulnerable among us, while fully and securely opening our economy.”
At least 472 people have died and 42,070 others have been infected with the coronavirus in Montana, the state’s health department reported on Wednesday. According to Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day positive test rate is nearly 30%, which places it in the top ten in the world alongside Poland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Cases have increased 13% in the past two weeks, particularly in Yellowstone and Cascade counties. At this rate, the state is on track for 1,800 deaths by February if tough action is not taken, according to a University of Washington projection.
The situation is so dire that the US Department of Health and Human Services has dispatched a team of nearly 30 doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health care workers to Billings for two weeks to help ailing health systems. A state report showed that several hospitals in most metropolitan cities, including Helena and Butte, have a capacity of 90 percent, the Billing Gazette reported.
“In virtually all communities, we are at or near capacity.“
“No region of our state is currently immune to the growing volume of coronavirus cases,” said Montana Hospital Association CEO Rich Rasmussen, stressing that small hospitals depend on urban facilities for them. intensive care. “In virtually all communities, we are at or near capacity.
“The challenge we have now is that virtually the whole country is under a push,” he added. “If Marcus Daly can’t refer a patient in state, they will look out of state, but now even these out of state hospitals are at or near full capacity.”
In Ravalli County, the pandemic is straining capabilities on several fronts. On Wednesday, 33 residents tested positive, adding to a total of 718 active cases in the rural county of 43,000 people.
Stevensville Schools Superintendent Bob Moore said five cases of COVID-19 last week forced too many staff members into quarantine. “I had a whole classified department that had to return home to quarantine,” he said in a statement to KPAX. The district’s shutdown comes just a month after it had to temporarily shut down a COVID-19 case.
Ravalli County Commissioner Chris Hoffman said the need to comply with COVID-19 mitigation plans was “at an all time high.”
“The problem now is the fatigue from COVID-19, it’s the people who aren’t as vigilant as they are,” Hoffman told The Daily Beast, noting that he did not have the power to give guidelines.
The community has done a “great job” in following the mask’s mandate and being respectful to each other, Hoffman said, a secret as to why the small town’s infection rate is “not as high as in other parts of the state ”. But despite the neighborhood hospitality, there is a divide between residents who are “very concerned” about the pandemic and those who are not.
“I think we are on the same page as public health and emergency room doctors who wrote the letter,” he said. “This letter is frankly a better version of our position – we just want residents to educate themselves and make good decisions.
In the letter, the seven doctors at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital said that, as the pandemic increases, their “ability to care for patients safely is becoming compromised.”
“We have treated patients with life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks that we cannot transfer appropriately due to the overcapacity of all hospitals in our area,” the letter said, noting several instances where “patients seriously ill ”were transferred. state because there was no place in the whole state. “We don’t have the bed capacity, and neither do any of our regional hospitals.”
They pleaded with residents and other health workers to follow COVID-19 mitigation guidelines, including avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks and social guidelines.
Recognizing that it took “a real sacrifice to change your habits, whether it is wearing a mask when you go to the grocery store or to church, or that means canceling a highly anticipated gathering,” the doctors pointed out that the guidelines aim to stop the spread. to get their community “back to normal as soon as possible”.
“As emergency doctors, but also as members of your community, as neighbors and friends, we ask for your help,” the doctors stressed. “We can’t do this without you. We believe the quickest path to normalcy – and the one with the fewest casualties – is to take this threat seriously today. “
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