Health officials on Wednesday confirmed 13 additional cases of COVID-19 in Montana, raising the state’s total number of cases to 332.
Meanwhile, Flathead County reported no new confirmed cases of the illness; however, one day earlier local health officials confirmed evidence of community spread in the area when six individuals tested positive for COVID-19 but reportedly had no travel history and no known contact with another confirmed
Those cases mark the first instances of known community transmission in the valley, a departure from previous cases, even though health officials suspected person-to-person transmissions were likely occurring.
The additional cases of COVID-19 bring Flathead County’s total to 31 cases.
Dr. Doug Nelson, chief medical officer at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, said the new evidence of community spread underscores the importance of social distancing and sheltering at home, particularly because people who are asymptomatic can still transmit the virus.
“It highlights the importance of social distancing and sheltering at home. If you can stay away from your fellow community members, you can reduce not only your chance of contracting the virus, but you can reduce the chance of spreading it to others and overburdening the health care system,” Nelson said.
On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Bullock extended a statewide stay-at-home order for all Montana residents until April 24, pushing his previous directive forward by two weeks while also stretching school closures and restrictions on non-essential businesses.
Bullock also encouraged residents to wear cloth masks and face coverings in public settings in which social distancing is a challenge, such as in lines or while shopping at the grocery store or pharmacy. The recommendation follows that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Nelson, wearing a face covering can reduce spread of the virus and is encouraged.
In Whitefish, City Manager Dana Smith clarified that under Bullock’s directive, individuals who are self-quarantining, either because they have tested positive for the virus or had contact with someone who has, cannot leave their home for groceries, public outdoor recreation, to go to work, or for any other activity.
“You must remain at your place of quarantine for the duration of the quarantine period,” Smith stated in a letter local residents and business owners.
“With the first signs of community spread in Flathead Valley it is ever more important to stay at home as much as possible, wash your hands, use delivery services when possible, wear cloth face coverings while in public, and maintain social distancing of 6-feet apart while participating in essential activities.”
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