Missoula City County Health Officer Ellen Leahy is warning those who are beginning to relax about the COVID pandemic that cases are rising once again in Missoula County, with younger people being hospitalized.

“We've enjoyed bringing our incidents and our transmission rates and our positive test rates down for two months now since January down with just a few upticks,” said Leahy. However, in the last week and a half, we've reversed direction and now we're going up. We're moving in the wrong direction right now, with cases, with transmission, and with the positivity rate.”

In addition, Leahy said there have been some cases with COVID variants reported in Missoula.

“Missoula County did receive information from the state health department yesterday that two cases of a certain type of variant, one of the California variants, has been identified in two of our cases,” she said. “That is not surprising news, but I do know its new information that people are interested in.”

Leahy was also concerned with the number of hospitalizations and the ages involved.

“For Missoula county residents hospitalized yesterday there were eight, and three of those in the 20’s, four in their 60s, and only one was in that very elderly group,” she said. “So I really want to change that picture in people's minds that number one, you know, we're just low on cases, but now we're reversing course. Number two, you know that it's really minor if you're younger, but that's not true for everyone. We want to get people’s awareness back up.”

Leahy said Missoula County will make an early start in transitioning to the next vaccination phase.

"The Missoula county vaccine coordination team will be making an announcement later today, but we will be moving into the other wide open age 16 and older eligibility for vaccines," she said. "We're going to move into it earlier. There's a couple other counties we're looking at on Sunday the 28th and we really want to get the vaccines out there."

Leahy notes that the COVID-19 incidence rate 7-day average per 100,000 people, an epidemiological measure used to determine how saturated a community is with COVID-19, is also rising.

“After two months of declining cases, our incidence rate recently increased from 11 to 18,” says Leahy. According to the Harvard Global Health Institute, an incident rate at or above 25 can signal a tipping point for controlling spread.

LOOK: Answers to 30 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

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