COVID-19

State Employees Return to Work as Montana Faces Virus Surge

COVID-19 vaccinations are not required of state employees, and vaccination rates in Montana remain below the national average

By Associated Press

HELENA — All Montana state employees will be required to return to work Sept. 7, even as the state faces a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Montana Department of Administration announced the mandatory return to work in an email to government workers last Friday, the Montana State News Bureau reported.

The news came as Montana health officials reported 493 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest number of cases tallied in a single day since January.

The email, from department director Misty Ann Giles, encouraged employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and to stay home if they’re feeling sick. The memo also noted that rapid testing will be available on-site, although it doesn’t specify any requirements for testing. Most state employees are not required to wear face masks while at work.

“I ask all agency management and individual employees to ensure that health, safety, and cleaning protocols are followed at worksites as we continue working together to meet operational needs, serve the citizens of Montana, and complete transitioning back to the worksite,” Giles wrote.

But COVID-19 vaccinations are not required of state employees, and vaccination rates in Montana remain below the national average.

Less than half of Montana residents eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine are fully vaccinated. Of those hospitalized with the virus in June and July, nearly 90% were unvaccinated.

Hospitalizations are on the rise, with more than 150 people hospitalized with the respiratory virus on Tuesday, nearly triple the average of 54 COVID-19 hospitalizations recorded per day in June.

Hospitalizations remain below the peak of over 400 recorded last November.

In Helena, where many state government employees live and work, wastewater testing indicated the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

The results of tests conducted by Carroll College released Monday show Helena’s wastewater contained about 193,000 genomic copies of SARS-CoV-2 per liter, an increase of about 1,100% from the results released the previous week.

Lewis and Clark County public health officials said the results show that COVID-19 is on the rise, and case numbers are likely to increase in the coming weeks.

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