CCSO, GFPS provide updates on COVID-19 cases; three cases confirmed at Benefis Senior Services

Updated Oct. 4 with information from Benefis Health System and information from CCHD on additional COVID-19 related deaths in the county.

Benefis Health System confirmed Oct. 4 there are positive COVID-19 cases among residents of the Senior Services division.

The Electric asked about positive cases in the division on Oct. 3 and in an Oct. 4 email, Benefis officials said that three residents have tested positive after testing of all residents across its three Senior Services campuses.

The positive residents have been moved out of Senior Services to avoid exposing other residents, according to Benefis.

“We have been diligent with our visitation and social distancing policies up to this point,” Dave Krebs, Benefis Senior Services’ chief operating officer, said in a release. “Unfortunately as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, it has now reached our organization. However, we are confident the proactive plans we developed in preparation for this scenario will allow us to contain further the spread of the virus among our residents.”

According to Benefis, preliminary contact tracing has indicated that the COVID-19-positive residents were likely exposed by an infected staff member.

Two Senior Services employees have also tested positive, according to Benefis.

The Cascade County City-County Health Department said Oct. 4 that there have been two recent COVID-19-related deaths.

Both individuals were men in their 70s with underlying health conditions, according to CCHD.

“Our hearts are heavy, thinking of these men’s loved ones who are mourning right now,” Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said in a release. “I hope our community will consider the impact their actions have on older Montanans and those with underlying conditions in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can protect our own parents and grandparents and neighbors by doing whatever we can to stop the spread of this virus. Out of respect for the families, no further details will be released.”

Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said Oct. 3 that there are now nine active COVID-19 cases in the county jail side of the Adult Detention Center.

There are 33 active cases on the state prison side with no positive detention officers on that side.

Slaughter said that as of Oct. 3, 193 inmates and 17 detention officers have recovered.

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“There still is a possibility of an increase in positive numbers particularly on the state prison side of our facility. As always I would to thank both my medical and detention staff for making a great response plan and sticking to it. Our facility is getting healthier thanks to their long hours and dedication to our community,” Slaughter said in a Saturday evening release.

The total population on Oct. 3 was 369, Slaughter said. The facility’s capacity is 372.

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Great Falls Public Schools have adjusted course again on reporting COVID-19 cases in the district and said Friday, “in the interest of keeping our community informed of the situation with active COVID-19 cases in our schools, Great Falls Public School officials will attempt to report on a daily basis, by school, the total active cases confirmed by our nursing staff, in conjunction with the county health department.”

The total number of active cases associated with GFPS on Oct. 2 was 31.

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The district will post case numbers on the website and will update by the end of each workday Monday through Friday, according to Superintendent Tom Moore.

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During an Oct. 2 special meeting of the County Commission, commissioners approved an agreement between the Cascade County City-County Health Department and the GFPS so that GFPS staff can assist with contact tracing for COVID-19 cases within the district.

Under the agreement, “CCHD will start contact investigations for any student that tests positive. GFPS will do their own in-school investigation alongside ours, identifying and notifying contacts based on school documents like seating plans, sports rosters, etc. Meanwhile, we will follow up on non-school-related contacts (e.g. from a student’s part-time job, the friends they hung out with last weekend, etc.) in addition to performing contact investigations for all our county’s COVID cases that are not associated with the schools,” Anna Attaway, spokeswoman for CCHD, told The Electric.

GFPS staff will receive training online for contact tracing from ASTHO and via Zoom from school nurses, according to CCHD.

GFPS nurses had already been helping with contact notification of students identified as direct contacts during school or school extracurriculars. The agreement approved by the county commissioners allows district staff to do more with contact tracing.

The district will be sending quarantine letters to those identified in the contact tracing process on behalf of CCHD.

According to CCHD, school nurses and CCHD staff are able to share information about positive COVID-19 cases and those who have been quarantined as close contacts under HIPAA laws.

CCHD officials told The Electric this week that the agency has had support from Alluvion Health, the City of Great Falls and GFPS for contact tracing. Other county employees may also be brought in for additional support as case numbers continue to rise, according to CCHD.

Cascade County added 35 new cases on Saturday and on Oct. 4, the county added another 20 cases, bringing the county’s total to 879 with 438 active cases. 

That’s up from the Sept. 30 total of 729.

According to state data, updated Sept. 30 with cases reported through Sept. 25, there have been 47 cases associated with schools in Cascade County and of those, 44 have been GFPS students or staff.

Statewide, there were 501 new cases on Oct. 3, bringing the state’s total to 14,356. Of those, 4,569 are active.

There are 189 current hospitalizations, according to the state data.

On Sept. 30, Benefis Health System officials said that there are currently 37 people in their hospital with COVID and seven of those are in the ICU. The hospital officials said they were at 115 percent of capacity. Some of those patients are coming from other areas of the state that were over capacity, including Billings.

As of Oct. 2, there were no COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Great Falls Clinic.

The clinic has the capacity to admit two COVID-19 patients currently in their two negative pressure rooms, according to hospital officials. If they have to admit more, they have plans in place to create a temporary COVID-19 unit, increasing their capacity to four.

Heidi LePard, the clinic’s infection prevention manager, said, “in talking about capacity for COVID patients, what is often forgotten is the fact that all hospitals continue to provide other services: surgery, cardiac events, trauma, stroke, etc. and that this care is not stopped or denied. Capacity also includes healthcare workers, not just beds…this is what has been an issue is some areas, new York city, for example, earlier in the pandemic.”

Statewide, there have been 186 COVID-19 related deaths. Seven of those have been in Cascade County, according to CCHD.