HELENA – A COVID-19 outbreak that started at a north-central Montana assisted living facility and caused six of the state’s 16 deaths appears to be over, a state health official said Friday.
Jim Murphy, the health department’s Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau chief, said that while there are still seven active cases in Toole County, those who are ill remain in isolation, and no new cases have been diagnosed in weeks, “well past an incubation period.”
Because the outbreak was tied to the Marias Heritage Center in Shelby, state and local health officials have been cautious in confirming that someone has fully recovered, he said. Sometimes it takes up to four or five weeks for a person to test clear of the virus, he said.
Meanwhile, thousands of Montana businesses and hundreds of residents applied for coronavirus relief funding that was available beginning Thursday, Gov. Steve Bullock said. He announced $123 million in funding for nine programs on Tuesday, including $50 million for small businesses and $50 million for rent and mortgage assistance.
The money comes from Montana’s $1.25 billion share of federal coronavirus relief money.
“There’ll certainly be additional funding announced in the upcoming weeks, and we’ll closely monitor the demand for this first round of emergency grants to adjust as needed and ensure that Montanans are getting relief,” the governor said Friday.
On Friday, Montana had 22 new active cases of COVID-19, including two new cases in Gallatin County that raised the state’s total to 458. The Gallatin County health department said the new cases involved people in their 20’s and 30’s, in the same family, who were likely infected while traveling out of state. They had limited contact with other people when they returned to West Yellowstone and are self-isolating, the agency said.
Another person tested positive in Lake County on Thursday, but because they live out of state, the case was assigned to their home state, officials said.
Bullock said almost half of Montana’s COVID-19 cases were discovered through contact tracing. Close contacts of those who tested positive were quarantined for 14 days and tested if they showed symptoms of the respiratory virus.
Those efforts helped contain the outbreak because quarantined individuals who got sick were identified early in their illness, which exposed fewer people, Bullock said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
— Ballots for the 2020 primary were mailed out Friday. All counties decided to use a mail-only election to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Voters can return only one ballot. The ballots must be received at county election offices by June 2.
— A group that is seeking to gather signatures to qualify two recreational marijuana issues for the November ballot will resume its efforts Saturday. New Approach Montana’s petition to allow it to gather signatures electronically was rejected by a state judge. The group has six weeks to gather nearly 51,000 signatures for a constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to set a legal age for the consumption of recreational marijuana, the Missoulian reported. They need nearly 25,500 signatures to put an initiative on the ballot that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana use.
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