Bullock encourages people to stay home; COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Gov. Steve Bullock said that “the alarm is undoubtedly ringing loud” regarding the increase of COVID-19 cases in Montana and asked that all Montanans stay home as much as possible and follow the existing health protocols such as wearing a mask, distancing and avoiding gatherings.

During a Nov. 12 press briefing, Bullock said “there’s no doubt that we have along winter ahead.”

East Middle closing Nov. 12 due to COVID-19

He stopped short of issuing a stay-home order and said he had “grave concerns” about issuing such an order and shutting down businesses without the same federal relief programs that were available in the spring when such orders were issued in Montana.

On Nov. 12, the state map showed 962 new cases statewide, bringing the state’s total to 43,031. Of those, 17,775 are active statewide.

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In Cascade County, only one case was added today, bringing the county’s total to 2,884. Of those, 1,830 are currently active.

The new case numbers have been low for the county this week and officials at Cascade County City-County Health Department asked the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services about that.

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The response from DPHHS was, “Over the weekend, the Department of Public Health and Human Services upgraded its statewide communicable disease reporting system that is used by local County and Tribal health officials to report COVID-19 cases. Due to this essential upgrade, new cases were not able to be reported into the system until late in the day on Sunday, November 8. Local public health continued to perform case and contact investigations and reporting into the system has resumed today, but it may take the next few days to catch up on new case reporting. As a result, today’s new case count was lower than expected and tomorrow’s will likely be higher.”

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Great Falls Public Schools will be closing after school on Friday through the Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to slow the spread and allow teachers to come back from quarantine since staffing levels have forced the closure of several schools, the latest being East Middle, effective today.

As of Nov. 12, there were 111 active cases within GFPS.

Earlier in the week, the active case count was 87, with 1,188 people isolated or quarantined in relation to those cases.

Bullock said that statewide, about 100,000 people were quarantined over the month of October.

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He said that hotspot communities, including Great Falls, Billings, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula, had implemented stricter requirements related to COVID-19.

“We do have public heath restrictions in place that are currently not being followed by everyone,” he said during his Nov. 12 briefing. “We need Montanans to stay at home as much as possible and certainly to follow the restrictions we have in place.”

CMR High School closed Nov. 3 due to COVID-19 cases

Dr. Greg Holzman, the state medical officer at DPHHS, said that during a Sept. 22 briefing, they’d talked about having the gift of time to learn from other areas on how to slow the spread of COVID-19.

That is no longer the case, he said.

At that time, Cascade County had 603 cases and of those, 337 were active.

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Holzman said that many who contract COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms and recover, but little is known about the long-term effects of the virus.

This week, Montana and the U.S. saw record numbers of hospitalizations, he said.

As of this morning, he said four hospitals in the state over capacity.

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“We need to be very clear and respond now, otherwise some of the darkest days could be before us,” Holzman said. “Everyone, please reconsider any social gatherings. This is not the time to be having any large family gatherings.

Stacey Anderson, the lead epidemiologist for DPHHS, said that there were nearly 7,300 cases were reported last week, a 29 increase over the previous week. That was more than 1,000 cases daily, a state record, she said.

She said that people should reconsider holiday plans.

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“We’re all tired, we all miss our families,” Anderson said. “The risk is just getting to be too high.”

Bullock and his team said that they’re working on increasing testing but still need more resources.

In Great Falls, Alluvion is offering COVID-19 testing to anyone, regardless of symptoms.

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For the last several days, they’ve seen an average of more than 350 per day, Alluvion officials told The Electric.

According to CCHD, the positivity rate of those tested has increased from 25.5 percent to 32.1 percent.

Bullock said the state has conducted about 134,000 tests over the last month.

“It’s a difficult time in Montana, it’s a difficult time all across the nation when it comes to COVID-19,” Bullock said.