Even though President Biden let it slip that COVID is ‘no longer a pandemic’, local health officials are taking the onset of fall to remind Missoula residents that the pandemic is still very much with us.

Missoula City-County Health Department Director D’Shane Barnett told us that the COVID virus can still cause health problems.

“Where this virus is, it's gotten pretty robust at spreading itself,” said Dr. Barnett. “So if you're indoors with anyone for a significant amount of time, chances are it's going to make its way around and we are absolutely seeing that as people start to gather indoors, re-infection rates are going up.”

Barnett said after over two years of living with COVID, health officials have many more tools to use against it.

“The thing that really puts us in a better place now though, is we have a lot more tools at our disposal to prevent and to fight it,” he said. “We've got vaccines available, we now have the Bivalent vaccines that help specifically against the Omicron subvariants and we are getting better every day at treating individuals who might be at risk because of other preexisting conditions.”

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Dr. Barnett thought it necessary to warn Missoula County residents not to let their guard down over a virus that has taken over a million American lives.

“COVID absolutely can still kill people just like the flu,” he said. “Influenza today absolutely can still kill you. But we have annual vaccines; we try to practice good health routines. COVID is the exact same. There are members of our community who will still die from COVID this year, next year, and in the coming years.”

Dr. Barnett had guidance as to who should receive the newest COVID boosters.

“If you have not had COVID in the last few months, you should be looking at getting the booster, called the Bivalent booster,” he said. “Now again that could change from individual to individual so you know you might want to check in with your health care provider but if you're generally a healthy person and you were boosted in the spring and you have not had COVID in the last 90 days, that’s the last three months, then you should absolutely be considering getting the booster.”

Booster vaccines are available without appointments at some local pharmacies. Dr. Barnett recommends Missoula residents and their families should consult with their local health care providers for an appointment to receive the proper COVID boosters, as well as flu shots.

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