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More Flathead residents seek COVID tests amid surge in cases

by BRET ANNE SERBINKIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | August 11, 2021 2:30 PM

Flathead County COVID-19 testing sites have seen an uptick in activity in recent weeks as the number of active cases in the area continues to surge.

Logan Health spokeswoman Mellody Sharpton said personnel at the hospital's testing sites conducted 7,584 tests in July, up from 5,697 in June and 5,948 in May.

Logan Health is the primary provider of COVID-19 testing in the valley, with sites in Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish, though some of those are available by appointment only. The hospital's drive-up site at 160 Heritage Way in Kalispell experiences the most traffic, as has been the case throughout most of the pandemic.

Most pharmacies are performing tests when they have enough supplies, as is Valley Medical Services in Evergreen, which recently has conducted anywhere from 25 to 200 tests per day.

A Valley Medical spokesperson said in an email Tuesday that testing spiked last week after a nearby pharmacy ran out of tests and was forced to cancel hundreds of appointments. That was followed by yet another rush when Canada opened its border to fully vaccinated Americans on Monday. (Travelers from the U.S. must show a negative COVID-19 test in order to cross the border.)

"Our testing boomed. We had to stop answering the phone due to the increase," the spokesperson said.

The influx prompted Valley Medical to temporarily halt certain services. The clinic currently offers only COVID-19 testing and certain appointments including physicals. The spokesperson said all other services will resume once staffing levels are back up to normal.

THE SPIKE in testing accompanies mounting COVID-19 caseloads.

Flathead County has more active cases than any other county in Montana, according to data from the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. At last report, Flathead had 648 active cases, followed by Yellowstone County at 355 and Cascade County at 319.

"It makes sense that we are seeing more testing because as the virus spreads, we are going to see more symptomatic people," Flathead County Health Officer Joe Russell said. "It's also important to note that our positivity rates are higher overall."

With the highly transmissible delta variant now the most common strain of the coronavirus in the U.S., Russell anticipates testing and caseloads will continue to mount.

Logan Health's testing numbers for August already are tracking with its numbers for July. As of Tuesday, the hospital had performed nearly 2,900 tests in August — a figure that does not include tests conducted at other locations, such as Valley Medical.

The state has conducted more than 1.5 million tests since the start of the pandemic. Statewide, there are at least 2,523 active cases and 164 active hospitalizations, according to DPHHS.

COVID-19 has killed 1,726 people in Montana.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at kgardner@dailyinterlake.com. Reporter Bret Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.