Yellowstone County May See New Restrictions as COVID Spreads

Cases reached a new high in October

By Iris Samuels, Associated Press/Report for America

HELENA — Montana’s most populous county may see additional restrictions to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, as cases reached a new high in October, Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton said Monday.

“I cannot rule out the possibility that additional restrictions might be imposed as early as later this week,” Felton said, adding that a final decision will be made by a team of medical experts in the county. Those new restrictions could include earlier closing hours for businesses and additional limits on gathering sizes.

Felton also announced that an existing county health mandate, which limits crowd sizes to 25 people and requires restaurants and bars to close by 12:30 a.m., has been extended until Dec. 9.

A spokesperson for Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday that no new statewide restrictions were under consideration, as case totals surpassed 40,000 and hospitalizations climbed to 470.

The number of new cases per day in Yellowstone County rose from 32 per 100,000 in the beginning of the month to 92 per 100,000 by the end of October. The county reported 3,572 new confirmed cases in October, more than the number of cases identified in June through September, Felton said.

The number of COVID-19 tests conducted in October was greater than the number conducted the previous month, but positivity rate was on the rise, reaching 22% in October and pushing the health department “beyond capacity,” Felton said.

The county hired two people to investigate complaints against businesses that fail to comply with existing COVID-19 restrictions and they plan to hire two more, Felton said.

The state reported only 427 new cases on Monday due to an outage in the state health department’s reporting system. The outage was caused by an upgrade to the reporting system on Sunday, health department spokesperson Jon Ebelt said. The reporting lag would likely mean a higher case count on Tuesday.

The state has confirmed over 40,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic reached Montana in mid-March, but the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Montana has reported 457 deaths of individuals infected with the virus.

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.

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