By Evelyn Pyburn
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Montana has been declining since November 11, especially over the past two weeks while testing numbers have remained steady. But for closed and partially closed businesses there seems to be no winning, the decline in case numbers, just like the increase, has resulted in the extension of restrictions on business.
Last week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock attributed the decline in case numbers to restrictions that went into place Nov. 20, which expanded the existing mask mandate to the entire state and required bars and casinos to close by 10 p.m. – a mandate that county health officer, John Felton then extended to all businesses through December, and which now, last Thursday, he extended again through January 31.
Confirmed cases of COVID are down 36% since Nov. 20, said the Governor, advocating that the restraints are working and should continue.
The state’s COVID website shows that daily confirmed cases peaked about Nov. 11 and averaged 1103 daily confirmed cases throughout the rest of the month. The average number of daily cases identified for the first 12 days of December has been 849.
While the number of hospitalized individuals remains relatively high — with 488 individuals reportedly hospitalized with the virus on Thursday (dropping to 365 by Sunday) — Bullock said he expected the number to drop after local data is reconciled with the state’s reporting system. The number of deaths reported statewide as of Sunday was 818 with 3,080 total hospitalizations.
The World Health Organization said in March that the fatality rate of COVID-19 was roughly three percent – meaning three out of a hundred people contracting the disease would die – today it is being estimated that a more accurate fatality rate is 0.2 or 0.3 percent. The reason for the change is researchers believe now that there were far more cases of COVID than has been realized and that the disease actually began in December rather than February and March 2020.
One researcher, Jay Bhattacharya, a Professor of Medicine, with a Ph.d. in Economics, at Stanford University, reported that in testing for antibodies, (which indicate that someone has had the disease) in San Diego County, CA, where about 1000 COVID cases had been identified, antibody tests indicated that 50,000 people had actually been infected. So the case numbers were off 50 fold.
Because of the controversy those findings, 82 similar studies have been conducted with the same extraordinary results, confirming that the average fatality rate is not three in one hundred, but two in one thousand.
Other research confirms that there is about a thousand-fold difference between the mortality rate in older people (70 and up) and that of children. For children COVID-19 is less dangerous than the seasonal flu, according to Bhattacharya. Two to three times more children die annually from the common flu than from COVID. For older people, however, COVID is much more deadly than the flu. About four in one hundred of those over 70 die from the disease.
Bhattacharya pointed out that the use of lockdowns have never before been used to control the spread of a disease. They were devised to slow the infection rate in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, a strategy with minimal results.
The lockdowns on businesses, however, are “turning out to have deadly effects.”
While many believe economic impacts are minor compared to health impacts, the reality is that more people will probably die of the economic impacts throughout the world than because of virus infections. The UN has estimated that 130 million additional people will starve this year as a result of the economic damage resulting from the lockdowns – a devastating reversal of the past 20 years during which a billion people have been lifted out of poverty.
Bhattacharya points out that deaths will also occur because other health treatments, including the immunization against other diseases, have not been pursued because people have had more fear of COVID than of the risks from other diseases. Deaths are expected to increase due to cancer and diabetes because of economic shutdowns. And, because of social isolation, suicide rates are already on the rise, especially true for youths, ages 18 through 24, who actually have little risk of death from the virus.
“Widespread lockdown policy has been a devastating public health mistake,” concludes Bhattacharya, who urges, “Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.” He explained that herd immunity is not a strategy but a “biological fact that applies to most infectious diseases… The vaccine will help, but herd immunity is what will bring it to an end.”
Policies should be to allow those at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally, while better protecting those at highest risk.
The first 9,750 doses of the vaccine were delivered slated to be delivered to Montana ollowing its authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
The first doses were delivered to 10 major hospitals in the state’s seven largest communities. Doses delivered to the state in subsequent weeks will be reserved for rural health care workers and staff and residents of nursing facilities.
Bullock said 284 contracted health care workers are currently deployed in the state to assist in hospitals seeing a large number of COVID-19 patients. Close to 200 health care workers in the state are in isolation or quarantine due to exposure to the virus.
More than 73,303 people across Montana have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March.
Yellowstone County has experienced the highest number of cases at 12,722, with 2,469 active cases as of Sunday. Total deaths in the county is 144.
So far 3,080 people have been hospitalized.