Montana health officials announced 80 new cases of the COVID-19 illness July 7, including over 50 cases in Yellowstone County, the majority of which are connected to an assisted living facility in Billings. The new cases break the state’s record for single day total cases reported.
Yellowstone County reported it’s highest single-day tally of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases July 7 with a total of 55.
The majority of the cases announced are connected to the 15 employees and 43 of the 55 residents at Canyon Creek Memory Care Community who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past few days. Two residents with the virus have been hospitalized.
"We suspect that COVID-19 came into the facility through either a staff person or a visitor who did not know that they were infected with COVID-19," Barbara Schneeman with Riverstone Health, the Yellowstone City-County health department, said.
According to a spokesperson for Canyon Creek, the facility conducted mass testing of staff and residents on July 3 after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
Canyon Creek has isolated residents who tested positive as well as those who may have been exposed to the virus. They are working with Riverstone Health to conduct further testing, trace contacts of confirmed patients and ensure the care facility has enough personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and gloves.
Yellowstone County is reporting stressed operations in its ability to conduct contact tracing for all positive COVID-19 cases.
In a press conference July 7 afternoon, Gov. Steve Bullock said he will be issuing an emergency rule July 8 that will require both long term care and assisted living facilities in Montana to participate in surveillance testing as a continuation or condition of visitation.
“The purpose of this rule is to help prevent what's happened at Canyon Creek moving forward,” Bullock said via Zoom.
Bullock said Canyon Creek was one of 40 assisted living facilities that did not participate in sentinel surveillance testing, which Bullock said the state had encouraged and offered for free.
He said 177 out of 217 assisted living facilities and 67 out of 72 long term care facilities are using sentinel testing.
Bullock says moving forward facilities must test staff and residents in order to offer visitation.
Previously, Bullock announced in late June visits to long-term care facilities would be allowed under guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the CDC. Visits to assisted living facilities had been halted previously due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton issued a health order on July 3 prohibiting most visits to senior care facilities after seven senior care facilities in the county reported infections in residents or staff.
Older people are more likely to experience severe symptoms of COVID-19 and have a higher mortality rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 8 out of 10 deaths related to COVID-19 in the U.S. have been people 65 or older.
Schneeman says we are still in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
"And with this particular situation this is a heartbreaking example of what can happen when we don’t follow the three W’s of washing our hands, watching our distance making sure we are maintaining at least six feet away from others and wearing a mask," Schneeman said.
Canyon Creek management says they have notified all residents and their families of the outbreak.