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Online tool now displays local hospitalizations

by Kianna Gardner
Daily Inter Lake | July 24, 2020 1:00 AM

The Flathead City-County Health Department’s online COVID-19 dashboard that displays information on cases in Flathead County recently was updated to include new data features, including local hospitalization numbers.

According to the dashboard, eight individuals are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Flathead County, as of Thursday morning. The tool also notes five of those hospitalized patients are residents from another county.

Prior to the department updating its dashboard, statewide hospitalization numbers could be viewed on Montana’s COVID-19 Task Force website, but an in-depth breakdown as to where those individuals were hospitalized in the state was not provided. Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have said hospitalization numbers are critical for evaluating and managing an area’s outbreak so that hospitals don’t become overwhelmed. In many areas of the country — Montana included — while cases of COVID-19 may be high, hospitalization rates for the virus are low.

For example, as of Thursday, Montana had 2,910 cumulative confirmed cases since the start of the state’s outbreak and there have been 183 hospitalizations statewide, or little more than 6% of total cases.

Kalispell Regional Healthcare is equipped with 12 intensive-care unit beds in a dedicated COVID-19 unit and another 18 standard intensive-care-unit beds that could be used, if needed. Based on those numbers and hospitalization numbers on the county health department’s dashboard, as of Thursday, eight of the hospital system’s 30 ICU beds are currently in-use.

Hospital officials have consistently said they are able to “flex up” with bed capacity for COVID-19 patients, if necessary. Last week, Kalispell Regional Chief Medical Officer Doug Nelson said local hospitalizations have remained “relatively low,” even though cases have risen in Flathead County and surrounding areas.

ASIDE FROM displaying hospitalization numbers, the dashboard also now provides information on how many calls were placed to the nurse COVID-19 help line at the health department the prior day. For example, on Wednesday, a total of 69 calls were placed. This figure helps individuals understand overall call volumes and may explain why call wait times are higher some days compared to others.

And while the new dashboard, which is updated daily and is publicly available on the department’s website, offers a handful of additional insights into Flathead County’s cases, a few features that were available on the previous dashboard have been removed.

The old tool listed the source of cases, such as travel, but that information is no longer available.

The top of the new dashboard states, “Due to community spread of COVID-19 in Flathead County, in addition to the influx of cases being reported every day, it is currently difficult for the Flathead City-County Health Department to determine and report the source of new cases.”

Numbers show the health department is currently monitoring more than 400 individuals and have finished monitoring about 300 since the start of the county’s outbreak.

Up-to-date information on Flathead County cases can be found on the department’s website at https://www.flatheadhealth.org/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com