HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock and state health officials urged Montanans not to let their guard down when it comes to preventing the spread of the coronavirus after the state reported 136 new cases of COVID-19 in the past week, including a nursing nursing home resident in Billings and a firefighter in Missoula.
The state has reported 248 cases, or nearly one-third of its known 766 cases, since June 1, when it entered its second phase of reopening the economy. Twenty-three cases were discovered from among over 1,100 tests run on Tuesday.
“There’s no doubt that we’ve seen a spike in cases since phase two began,” Bullock said Wednesday.
While Montana still has the lowest number of cases per capita in the continental U.S., Bullock and state medical officer Greg Holzman reminded people to stay home when sick, wear a mask when social distancing isn’t practical and quarantine or isolate if health officials ask you to.
“If we don’t do things right in Montana, the virus can get out of hand,” Bullock said.
State officials have said increased testing and lifting restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were expected to lead to increased case numbers, in part due to catching asymptomatic cases.
However, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased from one on June 5 to 17 on Tuesday. The state has 174 people known to be currently infected with COVID-19, 571 people are considered recovered and 21 people have died.
In studying the spread of recent cases, state epidemiologists are finding that out-of-state residents visiting family in Montana or people returning to Montana from out-of-state travel present a bigger risk for exposure than tourists traveling through the state, Bullock said.
Recent clusters have happened due to groups traveling to medical appointments in one vehicle and not wearing masks, epidemiologists said, or from people attending multiple gatherings in a community.
Montanans need to work as a community to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus, Holzman said.
“We don’t want to go backwards,” Holzman said. “We want people to feel safe. We want people to be safe. We want schools to reopen in the fall and yes, there are some inconveniences and we’re all going to have to deal with that, but those are so minor when we consider the alternatives.”
Avantra Billings confirmed Wednesday that a resident tested positive after questions from The Billings Gazette.
“The facility is unsure where our resident came into contact with a carrier of COVID-19,” regional director of operations Michael Speidel said. The resident was admitted to Avantra from a hospital on June 17 and transferred back to the hospital Monday, where the person tested positive for COVID-19. “We are nonetheless taking full precautionary measures at the facility.”
No one else working or living at the facility has tested positive, Speidel said.
A new case confirmed Monday involved a Missoula firefighter, city officials said. The health department has identified the firefighter’s potential contacts, including law enforcement and ambulance personnel, and they will be quarantined at home.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.