This week, Montgomery County’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people reached its highest level since the winter, but the percentage of patients hospitalized is nearly one-third as high, which health officials attribute to high vaccination rates.
In February, when vaccinations were not yet widely available and about 123 people out of every 100,000 people in Montgomery County had tested positive for COVID-19, approximately 13% of hospital beds were used by people with serious complications from the virus, considered “substantial” spread.
This week, for the first time since then, the county’s case rate eclipsed 100. But the percentage of hospital beds used by COVID-19 patients has remained significantly lower — around 5%.
The difference is attributed to the availability and widespread administration of COVID-19 vaccines, officials have said.
In Montgomery County, 86.3% of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 95% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Of the population 65 years or older — who are generally more likely to become seriously ill if infected — 99.9% are at least partially vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Throughout the pandemic, the majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Montgomery County have been among people older than 65.
“Even though cases are going up, (the county’s vaccination rate is) protecting us and keeping us from being an Arkansas, Florida or Texas,” County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said in a call with reporters on Monday, referring to states that have seen their hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. “… They are clear examples where when you have low vaccination rates, you’re seeing them hit hard by the Delta variant.”
Southern states, like the ones Gayles mentioned, have been overwhelmed in recent weeks by the spread of the Delta strain of the virus, considered much more contagious than the original.
Arkansas this month set a record for the number of hospitalizations, and officials in Florida recently urged people to “consider other options” before calling emergency services. Each has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
The county’s hospitalization rate of 5.4% as of Tuesday indicated a “moderate” risk of transmission, according to county data.
It’s up from 0.2% in early July, but still significantly lower than its peak in May 2020, when it was about 39%, and in January 2021, when it jumped to about 25%.
On Monday, Gayles said that as the Delta variant spreads, officials across the country are seeing a higher rate of pediatric cases ending up in the hospital — of particular concern as children return to classes for the start of the school year.
“It’s important we don’t just assume if a child gets it, they will be fine,” Gayles said. “That would be a huge mistake.”
Gayles added that it’s incumbent upon people who are eligible to get vaccinated and everyone to wear face coverings and practice good hand hygiene to protect children who can’t get a COVID-19 vaccination.
In Montgomery County, no COVID-19-related deaths have been reported in people younger than 20.
About 26% of all cases in August were among people younger than 19, according to county data. A year ago, the group made up about 19% of all cases.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com