Health officials say Montanans have ability to curb new COVID spike

Posted at 5:50 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 17:37:03-04

On Monday, Montana has reported the single highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period since the virus was first detected in the state. The state reported 56 new cases of coronavirus - a 67% increase over the state’s previous one-day record for infections.

“Montana has come a long way in fighting this virus. The actions we have all taken together saved lives,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “But as cases continue to increase across the we must do more to protect one another or else we may end up putting ourselves in a position where we have to move backwards.”

Thirteen counties reported new cases Monday, with both Gallatin County and Yellowstone County seeing double-digit increases.

Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) epidemiologists are working with county health departments to investigate the newly-confirmed positive cases and are conducting in-depth contact tracing. The work is on-going and DPHHS says more information will be shared once more specifics are known.

However, DPHHS reports initial analysis indicates the cases announced Monday involve positive cases connected to several recent weddings in Montana.

“It’s clear from recent new cases that some folks have let their guard down,” said Bullock. “The virus is still with us and we must act like it.”

Lewis & Clark County has only seen a small number of new cases in the past two weeks. But even so, Health Officer Drenda Niemann said bluntly that Monday’s statewide increase is frightening.

“This has been a situation in our state that’s been frightening from the very beginning,” said Niemann. “I worry that if other counties in the state are experiencing these really drastic increases in cases that we’re not far behind.”

The significant upward trend of new COVID-19 cases isn’t unique to just Montana. On Friday the United States saw a record high of single-day confirmed cases with more than 40,000 reported.

“"Things are very different from two months ago... So it is a very different situation, but this is a very, very serious situation and the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control," warned Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on a Sunday CNN interview.

St. Peter’s Health has been monitoring the state and national situation, and are actively preparing for a potential increase of COVID patients.

“St. Peter’s Health is prepared to care for patients with COVID-19. The increasing number of cases in Montana is concerning but our Incident Command team and caregivers are drilling and preparing to ensure we can safely provide care for our community,” said Dr. Shelly Harkins, president of the Regional Medical Center and chief medical officer at St. Peter’s Health.

Dr. Harkins, DPHHS, Gov. Bullock and Lewis and Clark Public Health stress that Montanans have the power to blunt the spread of the virus.

“If you’re in close contact with other people, you’re at high risk,” said Niemann. “We have to continue to use those precautionary measures that we’ve been teaching about from the very beginning.”

Wear a Mask when social distancing is not possible, particularly at stores and other areas where people frequent.

Wash hands and use hand sanitizer. Don’t touch your face, and cover coughs and sneezes.

People should also keep social distancing of at least six feet apart from anyone that doesn’t live in their home.

“We need to promote respect and kindness to others, that’s part of what it means to be a Montanan,” said Bullock. “Wearing a mask is a necessary act of solidarity to look out for one another...I’m asking Montanans to remember that we’re in this together. If we all do our part to keep eachother safe, we can keep moving forward.”