Cascade County officials considering stricter COVID-19 regulations, Board of Health set to meet next week
Cascade County officials are considering stricter regulations due to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
The city-county Board of Health is planning to meet early next week, though a date has not been finalized yet, to discuss what those stricter regulations will be.
Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said that health officials are discussing limiting event and gathering sizes and possibly reducing capacity for businesses.
Gardner said that they are not currently considering closing schools since “that’s just not where we’re seeing the outbreaks coming from.”
As of Oct. 14, there were 21 active cases within the Great Falls Public Schools district.
Positive cases are coming from events, gatherings, bars and restaurants, Gardner said, as well as workplace settings.
She said CCHD is working on an awareness effort to educate employers that anyone who is sick should stay home.
“One person coming to work sick and infecting five others is only going to stretch you further,” Gardner said of employers.
On Oct. 14, Cascade County added 117 new cases, bringing the county’s total to 1,178, of which 736 cases are active. CCHD reported four additional COVID-19 related deaths this week, bringing the county’s total to 12.
CCHD said all of the most recent deaths had underlying health conditions and included two women in their 70s, a man in his 70s and a man in his 80s.
“We wish their families and friends comfort in their sorrow. Please, for the sake of all the older and vulnerable people in our Cascade County community, exercise caution and compassion by taking the prevention measures recommended by CCHD. Stay home when sick, wash hands frequently and thoroughly, isolate or quarantine as directed, wear a mask in indoor public spaces, and social distance with people outside your household,” CCHD said in a release.
As of Oct. 14, Gardner said 21 county residents are hospitalized due to COVID-19. A state report from Oct. 13 showed 57 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Benefis Health System. Some of those are from other jurisdictions.
Gardner said that when looking at implementing stricter regulations, health officials are considering conditions of first responders and healthcare providers being overwhelmed.
At that point, “there’s little choice left for us,” Gardner said. “We’re at that tipping point to be quite frank.”
Gardner said that a press conference is planned for Oct. 16 with public health officials, representatives from both hospitals, Great Falls Public Schools and Malmstrom Air Force Base to discuss the current COVID-19 situation in Cascade County.
“We do what we can to curb the spread here in our community,” Gardner said. “We unfortunately have a lot of nonbelievers here or people who believe it’s an individual choice about infecting others. This, to me, has never been a civil rights or a political issue, this is a health issue.”
Gardner told The Electric the high numbers of cases added today and yesterday were partly due to a reporting backlog in the state’s system.
“Our contact tracers are overwhelmed,” Gardner said.
Gardner said that CCHD has hired two full time people and two part-time people who are working weekends as temporary employees to assist with contact tracing. Two people internally have been reassigned to focus on contact tracing. There is still a vacancy at CCHD for a full-time public health nurse, she said.
She said that CCHD employees have been working weekends, and many nights, since the beginning of the pandemic. CCHD is also looking at options to have city employees help with contact tracing for their employees since several firefighters have been trained on that though the city has had low numbers of positive cases.
Gardner said that in contact tracing, people aren’t being as forth coming with information as necessary and that CCHD is getting some complaints of people not following their quarantined orders, but their staff are overwhelmed and handling positive cases is the priority.