The Teton County Health Department on Monday announced the first death of a county resident because of COVID-19.
The individual was a male in his 80s, with diabetes, an underlying health condition that increased his risk of complications, Health Department Director Melissa Moyer said in a news release.
The individual was first admitted to Benefis Hospital in Great Falls on Oct. 14 and died Oct. 25 because of complications from the virus. The exact source of transmission for this individual is unknown, and was likely related to community transmission within Teton County.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we make this announcement,” Moyer said. “For many months now, we have seen death due to COVID-19 certainly not as an inevitability in Teton County, but as a possibility. Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends and the many, many community members that we know will be impacted by this individual’s passing.”
Moyer does not release the names of anyone who has contracted COVID-19, but David Trexler of Bynum on Sunday told the Acantha that his stepfather, John Wallace Brandvold Sr., 83, of Bynum had become the county’s first COVID-19 death.
Brandvold, a retired plumber, was very active in the Bynum community through The Rock Shop and the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center. He was also active for many years in the operation of the Old Trail Museum in Choteau and was, with his family, the founder of the Shadows of the Past Art Auction, which is now a benefit for Benefis Teton Medical Center but started as a benefit for the nonprofit museum.
Moyer said his family has asked for her to emphasize that this virus does not affect everybody in the population equally. “While many people experience mild symptoms, others are far more vulnerable to complications, hospitalization or even death,” she said. This is especially true for individuals that are elderly, immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions.
“The best way to protect vulnerable individuals in our community is by keeping overall disease rates low,” Moyer said. “This tragedy reminds us of the important role that each of us play here. Your everyday decision to practice social distancing, wear a mask, stay home when ill and wash your hands is an opportunity to impact someone else’s life.”
From Oct. 20 to 26, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services notified the TCHD of 19 new cases of COVID-19 in the county. The Health Department did contact tracing on all of the new cases and placed close contacts in quarantine for 14 days.
Last week, confirmed cases were identified in both Choteau and Dutton/Brady public schools. Moyer’s staff worked with school administrations in both districts to identify and quarantine close contacts among students and staff. In Choteau, one elementary school classroom has been put in quarantine and the teacher is now offering online learning for the students, who will return to the classroom on Nov. 3. Dutton/Brady Schools were able to selectively quarantine students and/or staff and is continuing to offer in-person school for other students. The diagnosis, however, prompted the school to cancel the last two regular season volleyball matches and to announce that the volleyball team would not advance to the post-season tournaments.
Additional statistics about COVID-19 in schools in Montana can be found at https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusmt/demographics. Data from school districts across the states is collected and reported by DPHHS once a week.
As of Oct. 26, the county had 21 active cases and 91 laboratory-confirmed cumulative cases since the start of the pandemic.
The demographics of those diagnosed with COVID-19 in the county last week include: one man in his 40s; two men in their 60s; two men in their 70s; one man in his 90s; one girl, ages 10-19; one woman in her 20s, one woman in her 30s, one woman in her 40s, four women in their 50s and one woman in her 80s.