With two more deaths in Missoula County reported on Friday, Missoula City County Health Officer Ellen Leahy said the number of hospitalizations has also risen, taxing local hospitals.

“Our incidence rate at 54 is below the state average incidence rate at 96, which basically tells us how bad it can get, if we let down our guard,” said Leahy. “The highest number of hospitalizations that we've had in six weeks is now up to 44 hospitals in Missoula County, and about half of those folks are Missoula county residents.”

Leahy said the death toll from COVID 19 is rising in Missoula County, as well as across the state.

“Tragically, we do have 27 fatalities among Missoula county residents,” she said. 24 or 25 of those occurred in people aged 70 or older, and I think that is a reflection of a couple things,” she said. “One is that it's the older age group has very serious complications with COVID.”

With positive cases reported in all age groups, Leahy said the COVID 19 virus will strike wherever it can.

“It's very stealthy and it’s very efficient,” she said. “And of course, often we find cases among close contacts with other cases. In fact, one of our good indicators is that over 60% of current active cases were in contact with known cases, so that does show that that identifying a case and then the contact testing does work. “It's just a lot of cases and it is affecting all age groups.”

Leahy said COVID 19 is not going away, and in fact continues to spread.

“The virus sees us as just one continuous community, and it's just going to jump from one person to the next,” she said. “So if we don't recognize ourselves as one continuous community, even when we might disagree, the virus will do what it does and it will win out, so really our only opportunity to get control of the virus are the things that people are agreeing to do.”

On Friday, there were 986 new cases reported in Montana, with 71 in Missoula County.