Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus And COVID-19 News

16 hours ago

12/02/20

Montana added 937 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases today. The state reports that 15 more Montanans have died from the virus. Montana’s total death count stands at 713.

According to health department data, more than 2,686 COVID-19 tests were conducted Tuesday, bringing the state’s overall testing total to more than 660,000. 

During a Wednesday news conference, Gov. Steve Bullock said the state is again seeing a delay in results for tests sent out of state, though not to the degree observed during a summer spike in nationwide cases.

Bullock says in-state labs are turning around test results in one to three days, with a need to ramp up capacity. He says testing remains targeted at symptomatic individuals and those with close contact to known positives. Bullock says tests conducted over the past month had a positivity rate of about 18 percent.

Montana Could Receive COVID-19 Vaccines By Mid-December, Governor Says

Gov. Bullock said Montana is expected to receive roughly 9,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine’s initial shipment, potentially by Dec. 15 or 16. Read more

12/01/20

Montana confirmed 1,015 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday as 17 more Montanans were reported to have died from the virus. Active hospitalizations also increased by 18 patients, for a total of 495.

As of Monday, Benefis Health System continued being Montana’s only major hospital to report exceeding 90 percent of in-patient bed capacity. Another five of the state’s 10 largest hospitals reported being between 70 and 90 percent full, an increase from the previous day.

Sidney Health Center is Montana’s only critical access hospital to report exceeding 90 percent of in-patient bed capacity. Critical access hospitals are small providers in often rural areas located at least 35 miles from another hospital. Most of the state’s 49 critical access providers reported fewer than 70 percent of their beds to be full.

Vice President Mike Pence told governors during a Monday conference call that vaccine distribution could begin by mid-December, CBS News reports.

New Hotline Available For Pandemic-Weary Montanans

A new mental health crisis hotline is now available to Montanans struggling with the ongoing emotional impacts of the global pandemic.

The Montana Crisis Recovery Hotline funded by a $1.6 million federal grant program is open to all Montanans but specifically targeted at Native Americans, students, health care workers and residents of communities hit hardest by COVID-19.  Read more

Flathead Health Officer Resigns In The Face Of ‘Toxic Environment’

In the heat of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Montana, Flathead County’s interim public health officer is resigning. In her resignation letter, Tamalee St. James RobinsonRobinson pointedly blamed both the health board and county commissioners for politicizing the virus that has killed 39 people in Flathead County and nearly 700 people across the state. Read more

11/30/20

Montana added 369 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases Monday and 10 more Montanans were reported to have died from the virus.

Since Nov. 1, COVID-19 has killed at least 295 people statewide, according to state data. That’s 43 percent of the total deaths since the pandemic hit Montana in March.

The number of active cases ticked up slightly over the long holiday weekend. At least 16,031 Montanans were infected as of today. Active hospitalizations also increased.

As of Sunday, Benefis Health System was the only large hospital in the state reporting that it exceeded 90 percent or more of in-patient bed capacity. Three of the state’s 10 larger hospitals reported being between 70 and 90 percent full. The majority of the state’s 49 smaller critical access hospitals reported that fewer than 70 percent of their beds were full.

11/29/20

The state of Montana confirmed more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend. There are now more than 17,000 active cases of the respiratory disease reported in the state. More than 460 people are hospitalized due to the virus.

More than 90 percent of Benefis Hospitals’ inpatient beds are used, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services hospital capacity report from Sunday. Benefis is the only large hospital reporting bed capacity in the red. St. Peters’ Health, St. Vincent Health Care and Billings Clinic all report 70-90 percent of their beds are occupied. The rest of the large hospitals in the state report fewer than 70 percent of beds are filled.

About 4 percent of COVID-19 cases result in hospitalization, according to state data.

Nearly 670 people have died from the virus in Montana.

11/27/20

The state health department confirmed 148 new COVID-19 cases across Montana, Friday. According to the Governor's Coronavirus Task Force the number is lower than other recent day’s count because many counties did not report their COVID-19 numbers Thanksgiving Day.

Montana’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard shows more than 15,800 active cases in the state. More than 450 people are hospitalized with the illness.

According to the state health department, Benefis Hospitals reports more than 90 percent of its beds are occupied. Three out of the 10 other large hospitals in the state, Billings Clinic, St. Peters Health and St. Vincent Health Care, report between 70 and 90 percent of their beds are filled. 

11/26/20

Multiple county health departments in recent weeks have announced they’re no longer able to test asymptomatic close contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases due to limited staff and time. 

The Missoula City-County Health Department recently announced that close contacts who aren’t experiencing COVID-19 symptoms wouldn’t be able to be tested.

“We are having so many people who are having symptoms of COVID, that our appointment book is filling up and we don’t have any slots left for people who are not having symptoms,” County Incident Commander Cindy Farr said.

Farr said the health department is able to test 180 people per day through two drive-through lanes at its current testing site and the department has added evening and weekend hours in order to keep up with demand. But she says staffing and finding an additional testing site stand in the way of increasing the number of people they can see in a day.

In Butte-Silver Bow County, maintaining staffing has been an issue, too. County Health Officer Karen Sullivan says the community health center’s capacity to test is limited because of medical workers who have contracted the virus. Sullivan says some close contacts who can’t be tested need to act as though they’re positive, even if they don’t have symptoms.

“We’re asking a lot of people as employers in regards to having people potentially out of work without being able to prove to their employer that they are indeed having a COVID health issue,” Sullivan said. 

Jon Ebelt, a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services says staffing capacity at county health departments and community health centers carrying out the testing seems to be the issue across the state. The state is encouraging counties to make best efforts to test all close contacts in order to catch cases early. 

Ebelt says testing supplies are only increasing, especially the availability of rapid tests. The state expects 230,000 to ship into the state before the end of the year.

The state and its partners are able to process up to 6,100 tests per day and send any overflow to a private contractor. 

11/25/20

Montana added 1,013 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases today (Wed. Nov. 25) and tallied 22 new deaths from the virus. Flathead County accounted for nine of those deaths, five of which are associated with a long-term care facility. Assisted-living and long-term care facilities statewide account for 196 COVID-19 deaths, that’s about a third of the 652 Montanans confirmed to have died from the coronavirus.

The number of reported active cases has ticked down slightly in recent days to about 15,900. Active hospitalizations are also down slightly.

Benefis Health System and St. James Healthcare are the only large hospitals in the state reporting 90 percent or more of their in-patient bed capacity full. The majority of the state’s smaller critical access hospitals reported that fewer than 70 percent of their beds were full as of Tuesday.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is at home with the people you live with. Health officials are urging the public to take safety measures, like mask wearing, social distancing and limiting group sizes, if meeting with another household for the holiday.

11/24/20

Montana today (Tues 11/24) added 974 new lab confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16 more Montanans have died from the virus.

The Montana Department of Corrections announced that a fourth inmate has died from COVID-19. The Great Falls Tribune reports that a teacher and basketball coach for the Great Falls School district also died from the virus.

Active infections continue to slowly tick down after peaking last week. As of today (Tuesday Nov. 24), more than 16,000 (16,188) Montanans were infected with COVID-19. Active hospitalizations remain at 467. State health officials updated various stakeholders today on the latest regarding the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

State health officials say the vaccine could arrive in the state sometime next month and that they will focus on vaccinating frontline healthcare workers. Vaccines aren’t expected to be widely available until next spring at the earliest.


11/23/20

Montana added 677 new COVID-19 cases today (Monday Nov. 23) and 11 more Montanans have died from the virus. Two-hundred-twenty-eight people have died  from COVID-19 in the state since Nov. 1.

Active cases ticked downward over the weekend, falling from their peak of just over 22,000 Friday to about 16,300 today (Monday Nov. 23).


Active hospitalizations also went down slightly as Gov. Steve Bullock announced the state has secured 200 traveling medical staff to help out hospitals hit hardest by the pandemic.

Some medical providers are beginning to roll back or cancel elective procedures due to capacity issues.

The Montana VA announced Friday that it’s pausing all elective procedures and reducing in-person appointments by 50 percent. Bozeman Health is also saying that it’s reducing the number of elective procedures it’s able to provide each day. Larger hospitals like Billings Clinic and Kalispell Regional Healthcare say they are still able to provide elective procedures at this time.

11/20/20

Montana added 1,475 new COVID-19 cases Friday, and announced six more deaths from the virus. Fifty-three Montanans have died from COVID-19 over the past week, bringing the state’s total death count to 567. The Montana Department of Corrections announced today a third inmate at the state prison has died from the virus.

Active cases across the state have been steadily growing throughout the month as new cases outpace the number of daily recoveries. The number of active cases has grown about 15 percent over the last week and 22,169 Montanans were sick with the virus as of today.

Active hospitalizations also saw an increase over the past couple of days. Hospitalizations peaked late last week and began a downward trend, but 506 people were hospitalized Friday.

Counties continue to note high positivity rates and are announcing a growing inability to test close contacts to positive cases who are asymptomatic. Schools are also struggling to keep students and staff in the classroom. Kirk Miller with School Administrators of Montana says there’s no way to count the number of schools that have shifted to remote learning, but says many districts have done so through the end of the month.

11/19/20

The state added 1,236 COVID-19 cases and reported no new deaths today. More of the state’s hospitals are reporting they’re at or nearing in-patient bed capacity. Six hospitals reported Wednesday 90 percent or more of their in-patient beds were full. 

Counties are continuing to update local health orders in light of Gov. Steve Bullock’s announcement that new statewide restrictions will go into place Friday.

Bullock’s orders reduces allowed capacity at bars, restaurants, breweries and casinos from 75 to 50 percent and requires those businesses to close at 10 p.m. Bullock is also restricting gatherings to 25 people when social distancing cannot occur. The governor's updated directive extends the requirement of face coverings for certain indoor places to all counties.

Yellowstone County health officials announced today that they’re extending a health order limiting gatherings to 25 people through the end of the year, regardless of ability to social distance. The county is also expanding on Bullock’s order to require that churches and gyms also operate at 50 percent capacity and close at 10 p.m. The county is restricting private sports and performance organizations to only practicing with up to 25 people and forbids games or performances. The order does not impact school sports programs.

The Missoula City-County health board also updated some of its health orders, namely requiring event organizers of gatherings up to 250 people to submit plans 10 days ahead of time. The county says it will accept plans for sporting events with more than 25 people if they comply with NCAA and Big Sky Conference requirements.

Missoula County health officials also suggested that local health orders will stay in place if Governor-elect Greg Gianforte removes Gov. Bullock's current directives. Gianforte announced today that he received his first COVID-19 briefing from state and federal officials 

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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.