The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) on Monday confirmed Montana's first COVID-19 cases caused by the highly contagious omicron variant.
Two Gallatin County residents in their 30s tested positive for the variant, and both individuals have travel history to South Africa. Both people had mild symptoms, which are improving, and they have been self-isolating since returning to Montana. Both individuals are fully vaccinated.
Adam Meier, DPHHS director, said the presence of omicron in Montana is "not a surprise." As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that just three states, South Dakota, North Dakota and Oklahoma, did not yet detect the presence of the omicron variant.
Montana is the 46th state with a confirmed COVID-19 case caused by omicron.
73% of all new cases: Omicron variant sweeping across nation
Meier encourages Montanans to use "all available tools to stay healthy this winter, including getting your COVID-19 vaccine and booster and taking other measures to prevent the spread of the virus."
Scientists are still working to understand how the omicron variant compares with the predominant delta variant, in terms of transmissibility and severity. Delta is still the predominant strain in the U.S., according to a news release.
DPHHS encourages Montanans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, get tested and stay home when feeling sick. Fifty-two percent of eligible Montanans have been fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 in Montana
Montana on Monday reported 159 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state's total active case count to 1,723. There have been 2,878 total COVID-19 deaths statewide, which includes one new fatality since Friday. The additional death was listed as a Cascade County woman in her 70s who was unvaccinated.
Cascade County reported seven new COVID-19 cases on Monday. The county has 181 active cases and 281 total deaths from the virus. Forty-eight percent of eligible Cascade County residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Great Falls Public Schools reported that for the week ending on Dec. 17, there were seven active COVID-19 cases districtwide, which represents a steady decrease in active cases over the last several weeks. Valley View Elementary had two cases, and Meadow Lark Elementary, Morningside Elementary, Riverview Elementary, Sacajawea Elementary and North Middle School each had one active case.
Benefis Health System said there are currently 11 people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to a post on their Facebook page on Monday. Seven of the 11 patients are unvaccinated, two of whom are in the Intensive Care Unit and on ventilators, per the update. The total number of COVID-19 patients is down from last week when 15 patients were reportedly hospitalized.
Gallatin and Yellowstone counties on Monday each reported 20 new cases. Flathead County had 19, Missoula County had 16, Richland County had 13, Lewis and Clark County had 12 and Lincoln County had nine.
To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines, visit vaccines.gov.
This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Montana reports first COVID-19 cases caused by omicron variant