Montana Public Radio

COVID-19

A coronavirus testing swab in a test tube.
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The lead epidemiologist for the Montana health department says the fall spike in COVID-19 cases put a strain on efforts to trace the virus' spread, making it harder to collect that data and forcing officials to rethink how they present it to the public.

The House chamber at the Montana Legislature during the 2019 session.
Nick Mott / Montana Public Radio

Montana lawmakers debated Monday how they’ll hold the 2021 legislative session amid the coronavirus pandemic. The session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 4. Lawmakers did not make any final decisions, but were deeply divided on how best to proceed. 

A gloved hand swabs a person's arm, prepping it for a shot.
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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will go to health care workers in the state's major hospitals, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Monday.

Hospitals first in line for the vaccine are in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula.

Gov. Steve Bullock is joined by Rep. Mary Caferro, a Democrat from Helena, and Rep. Ed Buttrey, a Republican from Great Falls, and other lawmakers for the signing of HB 658, May 9, 2019. The bill reauthorizes the state's Medicaid expansion program.
Corin Cates-Carney / Montana Public Radio

The addition of work or “community engagement” requirements to Montana’s Medicaid expansion program has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

That announcement came Friday from the state health department.

Governor-elect Greg Gianforte
U.S. House of Representatives

In his first press conference since the election, Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte said his administration will prioritize its COVID-19 response when it takes office next month. He did not mention specific policy plans.

Gianforte was vague on details Friday, but said he’ll unveil more specifics after he receives recommendations from a COVID-19 task force that he created shortly after the election. 

After a months-long impasse, Montana senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines both say Congress should broker a deal on a new coronavirus relief package, but it’s not yet clear if they’ll agree on what a final package should look like. Renewed calls for a deal come as Montana assigns its final dollars from the last federal aid package. 

In rural America, treating COVID-19 patients can be especially difficult.

People live far from limited medical facilities, and communities are small and isolated. Often, there’s a stigma around just getting tested for the virus.

Joey Traywick, a nurse working in the coronavirus unit at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Montana, says he walks into work every morning with an “ominous feeling.”

Gov. Steve Bullock on Dec. 2 announced Montana could receive its first COVID-19 vaccine shipment of around 10,000 doses by mid December.

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

Bullock said there are an estimated 45,000 - 65,000 health care workers in the state and they’re at the front of the line to receive vaccines once approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

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

Dec 1, 2020
Interim Flathead City-County Health Officer Tamalee St. James Robinson appears via video in Flathead County District Court on Nov. 12, 2020.
Hunter D’Antuono / Flathead Beacon

In the heat of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Montana, Flathead County’s interim public health officer is resigning. 

On Nov. 27, Tamalee St. James Robinson told the Flathead County Commission and the Flathead City-County Board of Health that she will step down from her position Dec. 31. She also wrote that she will not be returning to her seat on the health board, which she had temporarily vacated over the summer to take over for the county’s previous health officer, who left for another job. 

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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.

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