Flathead County health officials on Thursday said another four people have tested positive for COVID-19, raising the total number of active cases among residents to eight amid a recent wave of detections.
Three of the individuals are over the age of 70 and one is in the 60-69 age range.
Meanwhile, the Flathead City-County Health Department is monitoring one active non-resident case, and officials said they’ve begun separating resident COVID-19 cases from non-resident cases on their online tracker, which can be located here.
County health officials said they are making changes to how they publicly announce new cases to account for the surge of nonresident visitors entering Montana, which is now in the second phase of its reopening plan and on June 1 stopped requiring a two-week quarantine period for anyone traveling here on non-essential business.
The four new resident cases reported in Flathead County on Thursday were among 25 cases detected statewide out of 1,355 tests administered. On Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock said in a press conference that the statewide spike in positive cases over the past week is due in part to increased testing; however, he acknowledged that an increasing number of nonresidents are testing positive for COVID-19 while visiting Montana, and said the state’s tracking system will begin accounting for those cases.
In the Flathead Valley, where the population swells during summer months as tourists flock to places like Glacier National Park and part-time residents return, local health officials said the move to parse non-resident and resident infection rates is an effort to be more transparent about the scope of coronavirus and its potential for community spread.
“We want to give people the opportunity to be as informed as possible,” Hillary Hanson, the Flathead City-County Health Department health officer, said in a press release. “We know that as we enter into our peak tourism season, our county could see an influx of out-of-state visitors. We wanted to make this information more accessible to community members and business owners alike.”
The Flathead County online case tracker separates resident and non-resident cases, while the state’s online COVID-19 response page does not. On Wednesday, Bullock said those figures would soon be included in the online database, even though Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines require that new COVID-19 detections be tallied in a person’s home state, rather than the state in which the person tests positive.
Health official have acknowledged the need to inform the public about nonresident cases popping up in their communities, particularly as state and local governments ease restrictions on group sizes and travel.
As of June 18, the state is reporting a total of 655 cases, 90 of which it lists as active.
In the Flathead, which until last weekend hadn’t reported a new case in more than two months, Hanson said it’s critical that locals and visitors alike remain vigilant and continue social distancing, washing hands and wearing face coverings.
In order for Montana’s phased reopening to continue moving forward, and for newly opened sectors of the economy to remain open, Bullock encouraged everyone to continue following public health recommendations.