Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus And COVID-19 News

Aug 7, 2020

Update 08/07/20 7:03 p.m.

Montana reported 155 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Friday, and just over 1,500 active cases of the respiratory illness.

The Cascade County Health Department announced its fourth death due to the illness on the same day. The over-65 man had underlying health conditions. The death was related to a recent outbreak at a Cascade County long-term care facility, according to the department.

Flathead and Yellowstone counties saw the biggest jump in new cases, with both adding 21 on Friday. Missoula County followed with 20, and Phillips County reported 16 new cases.

Only three counties report no lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19: Carter, Petroleum and Mineral.

The Toole County Health Department is warning people who attended a recent car show that they may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials said contact tracing investigations discovered several people who recently tested positive - and were in the early part of their incubation - were at the Shelby Car Show the first weekend of August.

The department says those in attendance may have been exposed to the virus at the event. It advised people to watch for symptoms such as headache, cough, sore throat, body aches and chills through August 15, and to call their provider if they develop symptoms.

Toole County is reporting 10 active cases of COVID-19.

Virus Spread Forces Lockdown On Crow Reservation

The Crow Tribe ordered its members to lock down for two weeks beginning Friday, as tribal leaders moved to slow a sharp spike in coronavirus cases and deaths on yet another reservation in the country. Read more

Collegiate Football's Big Sky Conference Postponed Til Spring

The Big Sky Conference has postponed its football season to spring 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The conference includes Montana State University and the University of Montana. Read more

Postal Service Loses $2.2B In 3 months As Virus Woes Persist

The U.S. Postal Service says it lost $2.2 billion in the three months that ended in June as the beleaguered agency — hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic — piles up financial losses that officials warn could top $20 billion over two years.

But the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, disputed reports that his agency is slowing down election mail, or any other mail, and said it has “ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time” for the November presidential contest, when a significant increase in mail-in ballots is expected. Read more

Update 08/06/20 5 p.m.

Health officials in Cascade county say a third resident has died due to a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility in the area. The Cascade City-County health department has not named the facility.

Local and state health officials have continued to warn of the virus’ threat to the elderly amid the recent surge in cases.  According to the most recent state health department analysis from the end of July, people age 60 and over accounted for more than 95 percent of the deaths in Montana from the virus.

Nationwide, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 related deaths are among adults aged 65 and older, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gov. OK's All Mail Voting
Kevin Trevellyan - Yellowstone Public Radio

Montana counties can now conduct all-mail-ballot general elections in November, thanks to a directive issued by Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday.

During a press call, the governor said it is increasingly unlikely the coronavirus pandemic will subside enough by November to hold a traditional polling place election without serious risk to public health.

“It only makes sense that we start preparing now to ensure that no Montanan will have to choose between their vote or their health,” Bullock said.

In July, county clerks and recorders asked Bullock to allow counties the option of an all-mail-ballot election to avoid crowding and increased exposure to the virus. They said it may be difficult to secure polling places for a traditional election, and that hundreds of election workers would sit out due to health concerns.

County elections officials made a similar request to conduct the June 2 primary by mail. Bullock agreed, issuing a similar directive then, and every county opted in.

The all-mail-ballot primary, the first in Montana history, saw a record turnout that was 10% higher than the last presidential primary election.

Bullock said mail ballots for the general election will go out Oct. 9, adding Montanans will still have the option to vote in-person in all counties.


State Will Spend $20 Million To Support University Reopenings
Kevin Trevellyan - Yellowstone Public Radi0

Montana is sending up to $20 million in federal coronavirus relief to the state’s public universities to support reopening efforts this fall.

During a press call with Gov. Steve Bullock, State Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said the university system will prioritize rapid testing, quarantining and contact tracing of symptomatic individuals.

“Our research and consultations have led to testing strategies that focus on trying to keep individual cases from turning into clusters, and to try and keep clusters from turning into bigger outbreaks,” Christian said.

The commissioner did not have an estimate for how many students and faculty will be tested each day, but said Montana State University will process results around the clock. Bullock said there needed to be a two- to three-day turnaround on test results.

The university system is also working to boost testing capacity for asymptomatic people, according to Christian.

He emphasized that testing is only one component of coronavirus safety. Students must also socially distance, wear masks, wash hands regularly and self-screen daily.

Christian said the testing strategy will require a significant increase in staffing and partnerships with local public health entities.

A Canadian company says two people working on the Keystone XL oil pipeline have tested positive for the coronavirus in northern Montana, but work on the project will continue. Calgary-based TC Energy told Yellowstone Public Radio that the first pipe yard worker in Phillips County tested positive at a local clinic on July 28. Testing on six close contacts found a second worker with the virus. Native American tribes and others along the pipeline’s 1,200-mile route have raised concerns that workers could bring the virus into rural communities unable to handle an outbreak.

Update 08/05/20 5 p.m.

Montana reports two more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the state’s death total to 66. Richland County Health Department reports a woman in her 80s has died. Yellowstone County’s health department reports a man in his 60s died early Wednesday morning in a Yellowstone County hospital.

Today Montana reported 115 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with Yellowstone County reporting the most with 25 new cases and Gallatin and Big Horn County each reporting 13. Phillips County, which previously reported being COVID-free, now has five new cases.

The state is reporting more than 1,500 active cases, with nearly 600 of those located in Yellowstone County.

Update 08/04/20, 6:15 p.m.

A long-term care facility in Cascade County has an outbreak of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The Cascade City-County Health Department Tuesday reports 6 COVID-19 cases associated with the unnamed facility.

The department isn’t naming the facility, citing health privacy laws. Local officials say they're working with the facility to prevent further spread.

While the bulk of Montana’s recent cases are people in their 20s, people over 60 make up the majority of the state’s COVID-19 related deaths. Outbreaks have ravaged senior care facilities in Toole and Yellowstone county.

Montana is reporting 82 new lab confirmed bases of the coronavirus today, and nearly 15-hundred active cases of the respiratory illness.  Big Horn County had the highest number of new cases at 15, followed by Lewis and Clark at 11, Flathead at 9 and Yellowstone at 8.

Sixty-four people have died of the virus in the state and 780 are hospitalized. Yellowstone County has the most active cases with 567, with Big Horn County second with 213. Prairie County reported its first active case. Only Petroleum, Phillips, Mineral and Carter counties report no lab confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Update 08/03/20, 5:35 p.m.

COVID-19 Leads To Changes In Fire Camps, Community Briefings

Wildland firefighters already follow a lengthy list of safety and wardrobe rules: the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has just made it a little longer.

New sleeping arrangements, meal deliveries and personal gear have all become part of the summer routine, according to Mike Goicoechea, a Type-I incident commander with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region. And while Montana has yet to engage in the typical August smoke and flames, crews have already got experience with the new protocols on fires in the Southwest. Read more

Billings Shuts City Hall, Library After Employees Infected

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Officials in Billings shut down city hall and the public library for cleaning after three public employees in Montana’s largest city tested positive for the coronavirus.

City hall was scheduled to re-open to the public Thursday following cleaning work and then operate two days a week under limited hours until August 17.

The library was to stay closed to the public until August 17.

The move came after two custodial employees and one information technology employees tested positive for the coronavirus, Billings officials said. It was unclear where or when they contracted the virus.

State Says Montana Rental Assistance Program Largely Unused

Montana set aside $50 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to help people make their rent or mortgage payments during the economic upheaval caused by coronavirus. But through the end of July the program has paid out just over $1.2 million, about 2.4% of the available funds, state figures show.

So far, about 750 Montana residents have submitted valid applications for the funding, a fraction of the 131,000 who have applied for unemployment at some point since mid-March as the pandemic ravaged the global economy. Read more

The state reported a total of 1,516 active cases Monday, including  69 hospitalizations. There have been 64 COVID-19 deaths in Montana.

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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.