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

Yellowstone County Establishes COVID-19 Thresholds That Would Trigger Restrictions

Health officials in Montana’s most populated county established coronavirus case count trigger points on Oct. 5 that if surpassed would cap group gatherings and limit the number of people in bars, restaurants, casinos and places of worship. It’s part of an effort to slow the virus’ spread.

Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton on Oct. 5 said hospitals and case investigators can’t keep up with the county's daily average of 36 new cases per 100,000 people.

If that average bumps up to 40 by the end of October, bars, restaurants, casinos and places of worship must drop to 25 percent capacity and close by 10 P.M. for the month of November. Gatherings would be limited to 25 people.

“Part of the challenge is that it does take a little time for these measures to take effect, and quite frankly, we want to give people a chance to prove that they care enough about our community to take these measures and slow this down,” Felton said.

If the infection rate per 100,000 people exceeds 50 before the end of the month, Felton said the health order will go into effect immediately.

Yellowstone County is currently under a statewide order that caps business capacity at 75 percent.

Felton said the possible local health order was crafted with input from local medical experts and Billings’ two hospitals.

He said the surge of cases in September and October has led to hospitals running out of beds. Contact tracing investigations lag up to three days behind positive test results.

“On average, someone lost their mother, their father, their sister, their brother, their grandmother or their grandfather every 32 hours in September, every 32 hours for an entire month,” Felton said.

He said September was a record breaking month.

“During September, Yellowstone County recorded the highest number of new COVID-19 cases, the highest number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Billings, and 22 COVID-19 related deaths,” Felton said.

Felton said these trends are not slowing down in October. The county passed a disturbing milestone last week: more than 1,000 active COVID-19 infections.

On Oct. 5, nearly 100 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Yellowstone County, 28 of whom were in the intensive care units and 19 people on ventilators.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Rachel is a UM grad working in the MTPR news department.
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