As Covid makes a new run in the population and state leaders refuse to take action, Missoula Mayor John Engen on Wednesday urged residents to get vaccinated.

The Montana Legislature, led by Gov. Greg Gianforte, stripped local health officials of their ability to manage the pandemic at the local level, and so far the state has refused to take action on the virus' rapid return.

That has left health officials “urging” individuals to get vaccinated, saying local hospitals are facing issues around capacity, staffing and other emergency care.

“Today I spoke with Joyce Dombrouski, chief executive of Providence St. Patrick Hospital, who told me St. Patrick and rural Montana hospitals are all experiencing COVID surges, staffing shortages and patient capacity issues,” Engen said in a statement. “With the highly infectious Delta variant, a stressed and burned-out healthcare workforce and many people still unvaccinated, their COVID-19 admissions are rising faster than they can keep up.”

Gianforte spent the day at the Northern border, where he condemned the Biden administration for not reopening the boarder to Canadians. Meanwhile, the state's Covid cases have shot up dramatically in recent days, returning to levels only seen at the height of the pandemic before Gianforte took office.

While the governor has taken the route of urging vaccines, only 49% of the state's eligible population has followed suit. More than 1,700 residents have died and more than 3,000 cases are now active, including 203 current hospitalizations.

The state reported 436 cases on Wednesday alone. That has placed hospitals in Missoula – the state's second largest city and a major regional healthcare hub - in a pinch.

“These factors are forcing St. Pat’s to put their Emergency Room on diversion," Engen said. "Our urgent care and outpatient clinics are also at capacity – and we haven’t reached the peak of the latest surge. They are now being asked to take patients from surrounding states.”

Just eight days ago, Gianforte told MTN News that he doesn't plan on returning to the mandates issued by former Gov. Steve Bullock, who was credited for helping stave off a more severe outcome as the virus peaked.

Instead, Gianforte said, “One of the things that we’ve learned over this last year is that mandates don’t work. I campaigned on a platform of personal responsibility. … We’re going to focus on personal responsibility instead of mandates.”

Case counts provided by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.
Case counts provided by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Local health officials, once the gatekeeper to local health, have largely been stripped of their authority by Gianforte and the Legislature to manage the pandemic. That has left officials begging people to get a vaccine – a message that hasn't reached 51% of the state's eligible population.

“On behalf of these hospitals, their staff and vulnerable Missoulians, I’m pleading with you to get vaccinated,” Engen said. “If you can save your life, the life of a family member, the life of a neighbor or a stranger by getting a couple of pokes in the arm at no cost, why wouldn’t you?”