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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Montana hospitals prepare for a new wave of COVID-19 patients

COVID-19 antigen test kit
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COVID-19 antigen test kit

Montana hospitals are preparing for a wave of new patients that could follow a rising number of reported COVID-19 cases.

COVID cases over the past week have more than doubled and the number of new cases added each day is growing. Hospitalizations in recent weeks have ticked down coming off the state’s recent wave fueled by the Delta variant.

Omicron now makes up the majority of the COVID-19 cases in the state. Head of the Montana Hospital Association Rich Rasmussen says Montana hospitals expect to see the number of patients needing care ramp up. Rasmussen adds that the omicron wave is coming at a time when hospitals are busy with routine health care procedures as well as cold and flu patients.

“Unfortunately, the strategy that we are all using is temporary staffing to meet those needs. That's what is unfortunate.”

Traveling medical staff have been hard to come by throughout the pandemic and are costly due to high demand around the country.

Billings Clinic Chief Operating Officer Mary Albers says the strain on staffing could be more intense because Omicron has shown the ability to infect fully vaccinated people, even those who have received a booster shot.

“So we will likely see an increase in folks that work throughout the system getting sick just like you would anywhere else.”

Albers says the hospital is still working through new guidance from federal health officials that could shorten the time some infected workers can return to work.