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

COVID-19 Spike Tightens Hospital Visitor Guidelines

Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, MT.
Courtesy St. Patrick Hospital
Courtesy Providence St. Patrick Hospital
Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, MT.

On Monday, Montana reported a total of 919 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 56 new cases since Sunday. That’s the biggest one-day spike since the pandemic started in March.

This spike has prompted some hospitals to tighten visitor guidelines.

Providence Montana is reverting to a no visitor policy for overnight patients at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, and for St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson. The change takes effect Wednesday, July 1.

Dr. James McKay is Providence’s Chief Physician Executive. He said the state’s growing COVID-19 caseload, combined with evidence of community spread in Missoula and Lake Counties, is cause for concern.

“The virus is now spreading, and also we're having folks coming in from out of state now," McKay said.

“So those things are adding up to make it look like this summer, and maybe this fall, is when we’re going to get more of our surge. Now hopefully it won’t be anything like they’ve experienced in some of the larger, densely populated metropolitan areas, but it’s certainly something that we need to be ready for.”

Protection for hospital caregivers and patients takes priority at this critical juncture, McKay said.

“What we want to make sure is that we have the beds and the caregivers here available when they need us, and we think by instituting this visitor policy, we can help ensure that that will happen,” he said. 

Missoula’s Community Medical Center is also reverting to a no overnight-patient visitors on Wednesday. Community and Providence are offering exemptions for maternity and end-of-life care, and anyone interested should contact those facilities for details.

Kalispell Regional Healthcare is taking a slightly different approach, enforcing a “limited visitor” policy. That means overnight-patient visitors are limited to no more than two designated visitors, and can only see them one at a time.

Hospital officials say they’re monitoring conditions and will adjust visitation guidelines as necessary.

St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings allows only one visitor per patient. All visitors are screened upon entry and are required to wear masks.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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