Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus And COVID-19 News

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Update 10/23/20

Montana reported 863 new COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to more than 9,600. While it took Montana nearly four months to reach 1,000 cases, the state added nearly 5,000 cases in the past week alone.

While Yellowstone County has the most active cases with nearly 2,000, the 10 Montana counties with the highest number of recent cases per resident are Carter, Roosevelt, Blaine, McCone, Hill, Valley, Deer Lodge, Big Horn, Powell and Fallon.

Currently, 351 Montanans are hospitalized with COVID-19. Musselshell County reports all inpatient hospital beds are full. Benefis Health System in Great Falls and St. Peter’s Health in Helena report more than 90 percent of inpatient beds are being used.

Missoula County is expected to issue restrictions next week meant to slow the virus’s spread as case counts there surge. The restrictions could include business capacity reductions and caps on group gathering sizes.

Consumers can now submit reports about businesses and events that are violating health orders. The steat health department will review those complaints and send them on to the appropriate authority for follow up. The information will be added to a database that tracks other consumer health and safety complaints and the state can follow up with the most egregious offenders.

Montana, Yellowstone County Step Up Health Order Enforcement Measures

Montana and Yellowstone County officials on Thursday announced new measures to enforce public health orders like mask mandates and business capacity restrictions as the state recorded its largest single day new case count of the COVID-19 illness.

Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton said the county is planning to hire four COVID Education Liaisons, preferably with a law enforcement background, to follow up with citizen complaints of businesses, organizations and individuals violating state and local health orders. Read more

Montana State Prison Identifies More COVID-19 Cases Among Inmates

Montana State Prison remains on lockdown after a coronavirus outbreak ballooned since being discovered last week. Over the past week MSP has conducted over 500 tests, which confirmed 81 positive cases or nearly 6 percent of the inmate population as of Thursday. MSP started a quarantine lockdown on Oct. 16. Read more

Update 10/22/20

Montana broke a record Thursday with 932 new reported COVID-19 cases in counties across the state. That’s nearly 200 more cases than the last record of 734 new cases a week ago.

More than 9,000 people are infected with the virus, and nearly a quarter of them are in Yellowstone County.

Three more people have died since the statewide update Wednesday, bringing the total of COVID-19 related deaths in the state to 278.

Currentlyk, 353 Montanans are hospitalized with COVID-19.

The most current state data show nearly 1,200 of the COVID-19 cases through last Friday were associated with schools. Seventy percent of schools in Montana report active cases during the last two weeks. More than 880 cases have been associated with Montana’s 14 universities.

Montana Sues Businesses Not Complying With Mask Mandate

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Thursday that the state health department is pursuing legal action against several businesses in northwestern Montana after they failed to follow restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The state also launched a website to allow people to submit complaints against businesses and events that are not complying with health directives. The complaints will be reviewed by the state health department and then sent to local authorities for investigation. Read more

Montana's Rural Hospitals Look Out Of State As COVID-19 Strains Local Resources

President and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association Rich Rasmussen says critical access hospitals across the state -- short on beds and staff even in good days --  are struggling with staffing and could be overwhelmed as providers are exposed or test positive for COVID-19. Read more

Update 10/21/20

A county health board in north-central Montana Wednesday approved a proposal to set a threshold for new COVID-19 cases that, if surpassed, will trigger stricter restrictions on social gatherings and capacity in bars, restaurants and casinos. 

Hill County, population 16,000, has had more than 600 COVID-19 cases. At least half of those are active. 

Health Officer Kim Larson said clusters have been associated with schools, work settings and social gatherings.

"We were doing really well up until about October. We’ve seen over half of our cases since October 1st, and we really need to get control of it."

She said the county needs to slow the spread of the virus to keep the hospital and clinic from being overwhelmed. 

If Hill County can’t get down to 58 new cases per week starting next Monday, a new health order will require social gatherings to be capped at 25 people, regardless of their ability to maintain physical distancing. Restaurants, bars, distilleries, breweries and casinos will be limited to 50 percent capacity. The new health order would be in effect for at least a month.

The state reported 624 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to over 9,000.

State Unemployment Office Estimates $3 Million In Fraudulent Payments During COVID Surge

Montana has sent over $1 billion in unemployment benefits to residents since the start of the pandemic. The state passed that milestone in October. As unemployment payments climbed during the pandemic, so did fraud. Read more

Reservation Facilities Strapped For Space As Regional Hospitals Fill

"You start out with fairly small staff and fairly small facilities, and then you have large case numbers. So you're kind of getting hit from both sides. You might have staffing shortages because some of your staff is literally out ill and you might have staffing shortages because you don't have enough staff to effectively interview all the cases identified or do all the contact tracing needed." Read more

COVID-19 Cases Continue To Rise In Montana Schools

The number of total COVID-19 cases associated with K-12 schools in Montana has doubled over a two week stretch, according to the most recent state data. Read more

Update 10/20/20

Montana Tuesday reported 706 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of active cases to just under 9,000. The record breaking high of active cases in Montana was Monday with over 9,600.

The state dashboard shows 11 more deaths from the virus Tuesday, bringing the total to 252 reported deaths. A total of 360 people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized.

Intensive care units are full at St. Peter’s Health in Helena, Community Hospital of Anaconda, Marcus Day Hospital in Hamilton and Sidney Health Center.

Yellowstone County hit a sobering milestone Tuesday with more than 5,000 total cases. Around one third are currently active. 

Riverstone Health in Billings says the surge of cases this month has nearly overwhelmed the local health care system. On Monday morning, more than 300 new cases had yet to be assigned to RiverStone Health case investigators and contact tracers. That backlog has been growing in the past few weeks, resulting in delays.

Families Sue Whitefish Nursing Home Claiming Negligence Led To COVID-19 Deaths

Families of four former Whitefish Care And Rehabilitation residents filed a lawsuit in county court Tuesday alleging that negligence in implementing COVID-19 protocols at the facility led to their family members' deaths. Read more

Domestic Violence Shelter Fundraising Effort Points To Increased Need Mid-Pandemic

A domestic violence nonprofit in Bozeman this month launched a campaign to fundraise for a new shelter it announced last year, and it says the pandemic highlights the need for more safe spaces. Read more

Montana Submits Draft COVID-19 Vaccination Plan To CDC

Montana released a draft document Monday that outlines its COVID-19 vaccination plan and priorities as required by the CDC.

The draft plan says front line health care workers, personnel who play a critical role in national security, law enforcement, firefighters, pregnant women and infants will be the first to receive a vaccine during the initial two month roll out, though it’s not clear when that may be. Read more

Update 10/19/20

State data Monday show 569 new COVID-19 cases in Montana.

Over 9,600 people are currently infected and 339 people are currently hospitalized, both new records for the state.

Benefis Hospital in Great Falls, St. Peters Health in Helena, and Roundup Memorial Healthcare are currently at capacity for inpatient beds, according to the latest report.

The most recent hospital capacity report from Sunday shows inpatient hospital beds in 13 counties are over 70 percent full. Musselshell County is reporting 100 percent occupancy.

County public health officials are asking Montanans to follow recommendations to curb the spread of the disease, including limiting visits with people from outside your household to six per week and capping visits at 15 minutes. Regular hand washing, mask wearing and maintaining distance from others are also advised.

Crow Nation Implements New Restrictions

The Crow Nation is under a new set of health restrictions after an increase in active COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. Those cases are driven by social gatherings, school openings and failure to follow safety guidelines.

Crow Tribal Chairman AJ Not Afraid issued an executive order Oct. 18 that requires tribal campaign rallies to be held drive-up style. The order also restricts social gatherings to 50 people and institutes a daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The new restrictions will be in place until November 8. 

The majority of the Crow reservation is in Big Horn County. Big Horn County is currently reporting 200 active COVID-19 cases. The Crow/Northern Cheyenne hospital has only one bed available, according to the state health department.

The Fort Peck, Rocky Boy’s and Blackfeet reservations are also currently under restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This heat map shows state by state trends in COVID-19 cases over the last four weeks
Credit NPR

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Get more Montana coronavirus information from the state health department, as well as updates from the CDC and tips for preventing and dealing with COVID-19.