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Lab delays a challenge as Covid numbers surge

by MATT BALDWIN
Daily Inter Lake | September 8, 2021 1:00 PM

Covid case investigators at the Flathead City-County Health Department are struggling to keep up as the contagious delta variant continues to spread in the valley.

The high volume of new cases in recent weeks has swamped testing labs, County Health Officer Joe Russell explained, and residents should now expect up to a week delay in contacting positive cases.

“Some providers are finding a five-day lag time, and if there’s a weekend, that screws everything up,” Russell said about the lab delays.

The daily number of new cases has been on a steady incline since July. Flathead County reported an additional 172 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 967. Statewide there were 1,041 new cases reported Wednesday.

Despite the delays, the county health department continues to contact all individuals who test positive for Covid. However, staff can no longer alert all close contacts to possible exposure. Instead, county case investigators are focusing their efforts on contacting close contacts that belong to higher risk groups, such as the elderly and immunocompromised individuals.

Meanwhile, people who contract Covid are asked to notify any other close contacts of their potential exposure and to stay home and follow CDC guidance for self-isolation. Those notified as close contacts should follow guidelines for quarantine.

Russell added that investigators are also prioritizing notification of people within local school districts, and those who work in health care or long-term care facilities.

He said there are currently 11 full-time case investigators at the county department.

“Right now, if cases don’t explode any higher, we can manage with that,” Russell added.

The health department noted that the best way to prevent the spread of Covid is through vaccination. Flathead County’s vaccination rate was at 42% as of Wednesday, compared to the statewide rate of 51%.

People can sign up online to receive the vaccine at www.flatheadhealth.org. The vaccine is also available at many local pharmacies and clinics.

Logan Health on Wednesday listed having 37 patients with Covid, which is just one patient less than a week prior. Of those patients, nine were in the intensive care and seven were on ventilators.

Of the total number of patients, five had been vaccinated, but none of those were listed in intensive care.