County adds 218 new COVID-19 cases; rodeo moving to Kalispell; Russell Auction date set; Municipal Court canned food drive canceled

On Dec. 1, Cascade County added 218 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 5,166, according to the state map. The steep increase was due in part to the holiday backlog, according to the Cascade County City-County Health Department.

Of those, 2,156 are currently active according to the state.

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Great Falls Public Schools returned to classrooms on Nov. 30.

As of Dec. 1, there were 51 active cases within the district, according to GFPS.

As of Nov. 30, according to state data, there were 181 non-COVID and 36 COVID patients at Benefis Health System with 23 beds available. Of those, 15 non-COVID and four COVID patients were in the ICU, leaving two available beds. Six non-COVID and four COVID patients were on ventilators, leaving 16 available.

At the Great Falls Clinic, there were two COVID-19 patients and nine non-COVID patients, leaving 25 beds available.

As of last week, the county has reduced its weekly case rate, or the average number of new cases per day over the previous week, to 98 per 100,000.

“However, this is still high,” according to CCHD.

Last week, the rate was 227 per 100,000 though CCHD said it was slightly inflated due to delays in state reporting after the system updates.

Cascade County has a local health order limiting events and gatherings to 50 people or less, effective Nov. 1. In mid-November, Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive limiting events and gatherings to 25 or less where distancing couldn’t be achieved or wasn’t observed.

When the Cascade County Board of Health adopted the stricter rules, the rate was 99 per 100,000. The county restrictions remain in place until the county reaches 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks.

“Thank you for the steps you have taken to move us closer to our goal of 25 per 100,000. Hopefully, in another week and a half (two weeks after Thanksgiving) that weekly rate will remain low,” CCHD said in a Dec. 1 post.

Montana Pro Rodeo Finals

The local order caused the Montana Pro Rodeo Finals, scheduled for January 2021, to move to Kalispell for less restrictive health rules, according to Susan Shannon, manager of Montana Expo Park.

For one year, the rodeo, which has been in Great Falls for more than 40 years, will be held at the Majestic Valley Arena in Kalispell, according to Jack Stensland, circuit board president.

He said that the local health department greenlighted limited spectators for their event that has 96 contestants and tickets go on sale Dec. 15. The event is not currently posted on the event page for Majestic Valley Arena.

But Malia Freeman, spokeswoman for the Flathead City-County Health Department told The Electric that, “due to Governor Bullock’s newest directive, the Flathead City-County Health Department advises against events involving groups greater than 25 individuals. We have not spoken to anyone from the rodeo circuit about this upcoming event.”

The interim health officer for Flathead County is resigning over the county’s lack of action on implementing COVID-19 controls, the Montana Free Press has reported. As of Dec. 1, Flathead County had 2,095 active cases.

“While other counties have instituted various controls to try to slow the spread, Flathead County has not, and its health board failed twice to institute a proposal to limit indoor gatherings to 500 people. Before Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statewide order prohibiting public gatherings of 25 people or more when social distancing is not possible, other counties had capped gatherings at 25 or 50 people. Despite the governor’s new crowd-size restrictions, a craft fair was held this past weekend in Kalispell, against [Tamalee St. James] Robinson’s recommendation. Robinson handed in her resignation the same day Christmas at the Fairgrounds began,” the Montana Free Press reported Dec. 1.

Commissioners approve multiple contracts for repairs at Montana Expo Park

“I feel bad that it’s not in Great Falls. But we are coming back,” Stensland said. “Our home is Great Falls.”

Shannon, Montana Expo Park manager, said that the MAGIE has already canceled for 2021 and that she’s waiting for official notifications from other groups that hold their events at Expo Park.

Local business, events, tourism taking economic hit in pandemic, hopeful for recovery

“We are still hopeful that events will occur as permitted,” said said.

In the meantime, the county has been making improvements at Expo Park, including replacing the water main, painting buildings, trimming trees and the historic Rodeo Barn is being updated, Shannon said.

County approves $409k contract for water main project at Expo Park

The Russell Auction

The C.M. Russell Museum has set Aug. 20-21, 2021 for the The Russell Auction. The museum is currently accepting artist applications, which are due Feb. 1.

C.M. Russell Museum postpones Western Art Week events due to COVID-19

Great Falls Municipal Court

The Great Falls Municipal Court is canceling the annual canned food drive, previously scheduled for Dec. 4, due to COVID-19 concerns and the need to reduce walk-in traffic to the Civic Center. The court can’t sufficiently ensure social distancing and safety measures required by COVID-19 mandates for such an event, according to a city release.

The Municipal Court recognizes the impact that the canned food drive has during the holiday season and will grant a one-month extension toward payment plans, upon request, during the month of December.

An appearance in open court will not be necessary, and the request may be made at the Municipal Court window or by e-mail (

If a warrant for failure to pay is active, the court will also reinstate a payment plan without an appearance in an open court session. However, the reinstatement request must be made in person at the Municipal Court window. Requests will not be allowed by telephone, according to a city release.

The Municipal Court staff still encourage the public to donate to the Great Falls Food Bank despite the canned food drive being canceled, according to the release.