Board of Health gets update on COVID-19 situation in Cascade County; one new case July 1

The story was updated at 6:19 p.m. July 1 with information about the active and recovered cases.

Cascade County City-County Health Department said July 1 that there is a new confirmed case bringing the county’s total to 34.

The new case is a male under the age of 18 and was found through contact tracing of previously confirmed patients, according to CCHD.

Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said that of the county’s 34 cases, 10 are active and one of them is hospitalized. There were two COVID-19 related deaths in the county in the spring.

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Gardner told The Electric that the other cases were either asymptomatic and released from quarantine or had symptoms and have since recovered and been released from isolation.

That makes 22 cases that have recovered in the county since March.

The county has had 17 new cases since June 13. Before that, there had been no new cases since May 11.

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Gardner said during the meeting that there are about 45 people quarantined since they were identified as close contacts of positive cases. CCHD public health nurses are calling them, and the active cases, daily to monitor their condition and make sure they’re still quarantining and isolating, she said.

Those calls can be emotional and taxing on CCHD staff, Gardner said.

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Katie Brewer, CCHD prevention services manager, said they have two part-time public health nurses, one took some time off and she’s had to pull in additional CCHD staff to help with contact tracing.

CCHD is in daily contact with Benefis Health System, Great Falls Clinic and Alluvion to monitor testing and conditions.

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Brewer said the majority of the county’s latest cases were identified through contact tracing or were symptomatic, but one was found through the general surveillance testing, which is open to the public regardless of whether they have symptoms.

Brewer said that at least four of the recent cases were asymptomatic.

The state is also pushing surveillance testing at assisted living and long-term care facilities. Gardner said the majority of facilities in Cascade County participated and some have completed their testing, others are in progress.

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So far, Gardner said, no positive cases have been identified through that process in Cascade County.

Dr. Ray Geyer, an infectious disease physician at Great Falls Clinic and a board of health member, asked if the state dashboard could include information on how many people have been symptomatic versus asymptomatic.

Geyer said other healthcare providers have been asking for that information and that some don’t believe asymptomatic transmission is possible.

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Gardner said she would ask state health officials if that information could be included in the daily dashboard updates.

“Without question we’re going to see more and more cases,” Geyer said during the July 1 meeting, but unless things get really bad, he didn’t think there would be much value in shutting down again due to the economic impact and since there’s now enough information for people to know how to protect themselves.

Gardner said there is evidence of community spread in areas across the state and there are cluster outbreaks from workplace settings, like one in Cascade County, and large family gatherings such as weddings.

Gardner said several people have come in to get COVID testing because they attended a wedding in a neighboring county, but she didn’t specify which county.

Several other sources told The Electric that several new cases are linked to a June 20 wedding that was held in Augusta. The Augusta Chamber of Commerce posted about the confirmed cases tied to the wedding and said it’s their understanding that all confirmed cases and their close contacts have been notified and are quarantining at home.

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Gardner said places of highest risk are places such as bars, places of high activity, sporting events, music events, festivals and similar places and events.

That’s why CCHD asked local July 4 parade organizers to cancel or modify their events this weekend to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Tom Moore, Great Falls Public Schools superintendent and health board member, said the district is working on plans to have all employees tested for COVID-19 before returning to school in the fall.

Gardner met with officials from Cascade schools and Great Falls College MSU on their reopening plans and is reaching out to other superintendents in the county to help with their reopening plans.

Moore said there’s a lot of consternation about how to reopen in the fall. He told The Electric previously that GFPS officials are presenting plans for fall to the school board during a July 13 meeting.

A health board member asked whether the governor would require masks in public spaces.

Gardner said she “wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibilities” for the governor to do so to prevent a return to Phase 1 regulations, “but as of right now, I haven’t heard any rumblings.”