Montana Public Radio

Yellowstone County

Sign on a business door that says 'Attention: for the safety of our patrons and employees, masks are required for entry. Thank you for helpping slow the spread of COVID-19.'
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The vast majority of Montana counties aren’t taking Gov. Steve Bullock up on his offer to help pay for the enforcement of public health guidelines aimed at slowing a surge in COVID-19 cases. It's been two weeks since the governor offered extra support in federal CARES Act funds to pay for counties' enforcement work.*

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.

Closeup of a mask on a person's face.
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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — 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.

Yellowstone County ranks 14 out of the top 20 metro areas in the country for the highest infection rates of coronavirus per 100,000 people, according to COVID Act Now. To slow the spread of COVID-19 and lessen the strain on hospitals, the county health officer will implement new restrictions starting Wednesday.

Health officials in Montana’s most populated county established coronavirus case count trigger points on Oct. 5 that if surpassed would cap group gatherings and limit the number of people in bars, restaurants, casinos and places of worship. It’s part of an effort to slow the virus’ spread.

Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton on Oct. 5 said hospitals and case investigators can’t keep up with the county's daily average of 36 new cases per 100,000 people.

The Yellowstone County health department is on-boarding school staff to track down the close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19.

RiverStone Health says this week it trained roughly 100 staff members at several schools to assist with contact tracing efforts.

Positive cases of COVID-19 statewide have spiked since schools reopened in August, and RiverStone Health currently rates its case investigation capacity as red on a stoplight scale.

School hallway.
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School districts across Montana have been in session for a few weeks now and there have already been confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in schools. But county health departments and school districts are taking varied approaches in how they are disclosing those cases to students, parents, staff and the broader public. MTPR's Aaron Bolton talks with YPR's Nicky Ouellet about his reporting on this.

Violent crime in Montana’s most populated county has been on the rise since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Reports police say a majority of the increase in violent crime is connected to drug use.

Yellowstone County law enforcement officials say from March through July violent crime rose nearly 21 percent compared to the same time period last year.

"This means we had 67 more violent crimes and 67 more victims during that time. And the crimes are more serious. With murders, shootings, stabbings and a 44 percent increase in robberies," said U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme.

The investigation continues into an alleged arson at a fire station just outside of Kalispell.
Flickr user Ariane Middel (CC-BY-2.0)

Montana's most populous county has seen a sharp increase in violent crime since the coronavirus pandemic began, driven by more domestic abuse and drug-related crimes, federal and local authorities said Tuesday.

Montana is allocating new economic assistance for businesses in the live entertainment industry.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock Aug. 12 announced the state will expand grants using federal coronavirus relief dollars to prop up businesses hurting from the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic.

"Without additional support for our live entertainment venues we risk losing those cultural assets, permanently," Bullock said.

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