Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus And COVID-19 News

Jan 15, 2021

01/15/21

A reserve of COVID-19 vaccines promised this week by the federal government doesn’t exist, according to reporting by the Washington Post.

The Montana state health department did not respond in time for broadcast to questions about how many vaccines Montana will receive in coming weeks.

Montana’s vaccine supply continues to be unpredictable and demand is outpacing supply, impacting how each county is able to vaccinate residents.

Brett Lloyd with the Lewis and Clark County Public Health Department said the county is creating tiers within Phase 1B [phases explained] to manage overwhelming demand, starting with the oldest residents, and moving to younger residents with underlying health conditions along with Native Americans and other people of color as time goes on. 

"We fully realize we are not going to be able to get everybody all at once, even all of our high-risk folks, that's just too many people in the community. It's literally thousands of people. We only have a few hundred doses, so we are going to be as fair and equitable as we can, but we are very limited by how much supply we have," Lloyd said.

Friday morning the county opened an online registration to Lewis and Clark County residents over age 70 to sign up for a vaccine drive-through next week. All 900 vaccines were reserved within 10 minutes of the site’s launch.

Yellowstone County also announced Friday it does not have enough vaccine to move into Phase 1B. Gallatin County said it will not be able to initiate Phase 1B until the week of January 24th at the earliest.

The Montana health department confirmed 515 new COVID-19 cases Friday along with nine more deaths from the virus.

Paycheck Protection Program Reopens As Small Business Owners’ Optimism Wanes

The Paycheck Protection Program reopened Friday with a more finessed approach, as small business optimism is waning. One major difference in the program rebooted by Congress late last year is that the Small Business Association gave community banks an earlier start date. They are able to apply as soon as January 15, while larger institutions will begin submitting applications January 17. Read more

01/14/21

A contact tracer has been hired to track the potential spread of COVID-19 among Montana state lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session.

Director of the Legislative Services Division Susan Fox announced the hire to the Legislative Leadership COVID-19 Response Panel Thursday. The panel is charged with considering day-to-day operations related to the coronavirus throughout the session.

" class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">Fox said the contact tracer met Thursday morning with the state health department, which will help coordinate investigations of COVID-19 among lawmakers.

Two lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 as the session nears the end of its second week. However, only one of those lawmakers, Rep. David Bedey, of Hamilton, had been attending committee meetings in person. Rep. Fiona Nave, of Columbus, has been participating in the session virtually.

The contact tracer is contracted through Lewis and Clark County Public Health.
 

01/13/21

Gianforte's New COVID-19 Directives Swap Mandates For Personal Responsibility

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte in a press conference Wednesday signaled his decision to remove and revise COVID-19 business restrictions put in place by his predecessor. Gianforte says this includes removing “arbitrary” capacity limits and restricted hours of operation.

The new directive goes into effect Jan. 15, but local health boards still maintain authority to enforce stricter mandates within each county. Read more

Bill Would Exempt Law Enforcement From Enforcing Public Health Guidelines

Montana lawmakers are bringing a slew of bills this session to modify the power of local health officers in a declared state of emergency, like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. One bill introduced this week would remove legal penalties for law enforcement who refuse to enforce public health orders. Read more

Governor Says 11 Counties Moving To Next Phase Of COVID-19 Vaccine Plan

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that 11 counties will be ready to move into Phase 1B of Montana’s vaccination plan next week. This phase includes those over 70, those between 16 and 69 years old with qualifying health conditions and Native Americans and other people of color.

Gianforte says despite the uncertain vaccine supply availability, the state has now received enough first doses to vaccinate all the healthcare workers in Phase 1A. Read more

01/12/21

The Montana health department confirmed 439 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, along with 10 more deaths from the virus.

Tribal nations across the state, including the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Chippewa Cree, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes stepped into their next vaccination phase and began vaccinating elders against the coronavirus last week.

Tuesday, Yellowstone, Lewis and Clark, Flathead and Cascade counties’ health departments announced they will be ready to move into Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan once supplies are available, which may be as soon as Monday (Jan. 18). Phase 1B includes those over 70 as well as those between 16 and 69 years old with qualifying health conditions.

Health departments are asking the public not to call about vaccines, which are not yet available, in order to avoid tying up phone lines.

More than 13,000 vaccine doses have been arriving weekly in Montana, according to CDC records.

Montana’s Health Care Staffing Issues Persist, Despite Vaccines

Montana’s frontline health care workers are receiving their second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, guaranteeing fewer will become infected with the virus. But hospitals are not changing quarantine policies for vaccinated workers exposed to COVID-19, meaning staffing capacity will likely continue to be an issue in hospitals across the state.

When Montana began to see a surge in COVID-19 cases in mid-October, hospitals started to notice that bed capacity wasn’t their most pressing issue. It was maintaining their staff numbers as many workers became infected with the virus or were on quarantine after an exposure. Read more

Montana Labor Department Announces Unemployment Benefits Extension

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry announced Tuesday that it has continued paying out unemployment insurance benefits through the latest federal stimulus package passed at the end of last year. An agency spokesperson said the programs will be open until mid-March, with some final payments extending into April. Read more

01/11/21

The Montana health department confirmed 228 new COVID-19 cases Monday. Eight more coronavirus deaths have been announced since Friday. The state health department reports there are currently nearly 5,000 active cases statewide and 207 of those infected are currently hospitalized.

Monday the State Legislature’s COVID-19 Panel announced  that Representative Fiona Nave, a Republican from Columbus, has tested positive for COVID-19. The panel’s chair says Nave has not yet been at the State Capitol in-person this session. She is the second lawmaker to announce a COVID-19 diagnosis in a week.

A total of nearly 87,000 Montanans have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Boosters Underway, Timing Of Next Phase Depends On Supply

As new COVID-19 cases begin to rise again in the state, Montana’s large counties say the COVID vaccine will not be available to those in Phase 1B for at least the next few weeks due to uncertain vaccine supply. Read more

Montana Universities To Offer Asymptomatic COVID-19 Tests For Residential Students

Spring semester begins this week for students in the Montana University System. Asymptomatic students living in campus residential halls will be able to be tested for COVID-19.

COVID-19 testing for students without symptoms will take place over the two weeks of the start of the spring semester for those campuses with substantial residence hall populations. Read more

01/08/21

The Montana health department confirmed 838 new COVID-19 cases Friday, as well as 11 new deaths due to the virus. Daily new case counts have been ticking up this week after a lull during the holidays.

Hospitals across the state are still vaccinating medical personnel with first and second doses.

Zachary Benoit in community relations at Billings Clinic says the demand is high.

"When we're going at a full clip, we can do about a hundred vaccines an hour."

Montana was allocated more than 13,000 total first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine this week, according to CDC records."

While county health departments hope supply amounts rise and stabilize in coming weeks, several tribal nations were able to step into their next distribution phase and began vaccinating elders this week.

The Small Business Administration announced Friday that it will reopen the Paycheck Protection Program the week of January 11, prioritizing new borrowers.

The new round of PPP loans authorizes up to $284 billion through March 31st, 2021 and is meant to support job retention and other expenses for small businesses strained by the pandemic recession. 

District Director for the Montana Small Business Association District Office Brent Donnelly says the program will simplify the loan forgiveness process. It will also open up eligibility for groups excluded from the first round, including certain non-profits, and local newspapers, TV and radio stations. 

The program will open to first-time borrowers on January 11, and to second-time borrowers on January 13.

01/07/21

The Montana health department confirmed 713 new COVID-19 cases as well as 23 deaths due to the virus Thursday. 1,038 Montanans have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

This week the Chippewa Cree, Blackfeet, Crow and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes began vaccinating elders after health care workers received the vaccine in recent weeks.

Counties say uncertainty in supply is making it difficult to anticipate when the vaccine will be more broadly available.

Health care workers with direct patient contact at the state’s largest hospitals are receiving second doses of the vaccine this week.

Yellowstone County Rescinds All Local COVID-19 Health Orders

As several Montana counties issue more restrictive health mandates to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Yellowstone County — with the highest number of active COVID-19 cases in the state — is rescinding all local health orders. Read more

What To Expect When You Get The COVID-19 Vaccine

Healthcare workers in Montana are getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Montana Public Radio’s Nick Mott has more on what the vaccination process will look like as the rollout ramps up. Read more

01/06/21

The latest round of federal COVID relief funding will provide Montana’s K-12 public schools with a little over $170 million.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction announced Tuesday that the amount coming from the latest COVID relief bill is over four times the amount school districts received in federal COVID funding last spring. OPI says it will receive more details in the coming days on when that funding could flow into the state and onto districts.

Each district’s funding will be calculated using a federal formula based on the number of low-income students living in their boundaries. Private schools will also be able to request a portion of that funding based on their number of low-income students.

01/04/21

Montana confirmed 288 new COVID-19 cases Monday, adding to the 288 new cases Sunday, 344 new cases on Saturday and 77 cases Friday. 14 people in the state have died from the virus in the new year.

Monday's testing numbers, at over 15,000 new tests, are higher than normal because counties are reporting their numbers from the long holiday weekend. 

Monday, the Rocky Boy Health Center in Box Elder initiated Phase 2 of the Rocky Boy COVID-19 Vaccination Plan. Misty Denny, the health center’s public information officer, says the scheduling team began calling elders age 65 and older on December 31 to schedule appointments. 

"We're trying to discourage any kind of elderly patients from just showing up. So they've been working diligently to try to contact the eligible recipients directly by phone."

Denny says the clinic vaccinated health care workers from its initial shipment of 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine and is using the remainder of its second shipment of 200 doses for elders, prioritizing those over 75 with medical conditions.

Most counties are still in their first rollout of the vaccine to healthcare workers who have direct contact or exposure with the virus. All tribal members are prioritized to receive the vaccine under the state’s vaccination plan. Native Americans in Montana have experienced disproportionately high rates of infection and mortality from the coronavirus.

Montana Lawmakers Split Over Pandemic Precautions As 2021 Legislature Convenes

Montana’s 67th Legislature convened Monday in the Capitol building in Helena where lawmakers remain split on how best to meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more

Health Care Workers Try To Bring COVID-19 Patients Joy, Less Isolation As Life Ends

When the coronavirus hit the U.S., hospitals issued strict limitations on visitors. Nurses and doctors started acting as liaisons to the sick and dying for family members not allowed at bedsides. As deaths reach new daily highs, that work is not getting any easier. The emotional toil of adapting to new dynamics with patients and families at one rural hospital in Livingston, Mont., is a case study of what health care workers are grappling with all over the country. Read more

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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.