Montana reports 49 new cases of COVID-19, total nears 1,000
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana reported another 49 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including 20 in Missoula County, as health officials urged people to wear face coverings when social distancing isn't practical.
The new cases confirmed from among more than 2,000 tests run on Monday bring the state’s total known cases to 967, including 303 people who are currently known to be infected. Twelve people are hospitalized, and 22 people have died. The state has confirmed 225 cases of COVID-19 from June 23-29.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
On Monday, Missoula County had 45 people infected with over 250 close contacts that health officials are monitoring for signs of the respiratory virus. Because of the high volume of cases and close contacts discovered over the past week, the county testing clinic is prioritizing the testing of symptomatic cases and their close contacts, health officer Ellen Leahy said Monday.
Eleven of the cases reported Tuesday are in Gallatin County, where health officials recently issued warnings to four downtown bars for overcrowding and not maintaining social distancing among customers, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
The recent growth in the number of cases in Yellowstone County is largely driven by group gatherings among family and friends, RiverStone Health said.
“Happy celebrations have become infection risks this summer,” the county health department said.
“This Independence Day weekend, we must be especially vigilant to prevent happy holiday celebrations from turning into tragedies,” county health officer John Felton said Tuesday.
State and local health officials issued a statement Tuesday urging people to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Let's make wearing a face covering the norm in Montana, so when visitors come to our state, they know this is the norm around here and they should follow suit," the statement said.
Montana’s tourism sector is set to continue to suffer despite the state's reopening for out-of-state visitors on June 1, said Norma Nickerson, director of Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.
Nickerson addressed Montana lawmakers during a meeting of the Economic Affairs Interim Committee on Tuesday, attributing the downturn in the tourism industry to the coronavirus-related economic downturn and concern among travelers,
Almost half of Montana’s hospitality and tourism workers were furloughed or laid off during the pandemic. About 38% of those workers are now back at work, said Scott Eychner, administrator of the workforce services division in the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
Rep. Mark Noland, R-Bigfork, said there has been a reduction in the number of employees in the state wanting to return to work because of the $600 weekly unemployment payment offered through the federal CARES Act.
“It’s quite frustrating to business owners how some of the employees are saying, ‘Well, I think I’ll stay off just a little longer because I’m enjoying this,’ ” Noland said.
The payments are expected to end July 25. Eychner said that once the supplemental payments end, the number of unemployed individuals in the state could go down.
The Montana government has allotted slightly over $49 million of the $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus aid given to the state to combat the effects of the coronavirus. Of those funds, $37 million were allotted through business stabilization grants.
Because of the resurgence in COVID-19 cases in Montana, Economic Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy, D-Crow Agency, raised concern that another shelter-in-place order could be implemented, causing businesses to apply for additional assistance in the future.
“That’s exactly why we kept some of the money back, because things are changing on a weekly, daily, bi-weekly basis,” said Deputy Budget Director Amy Sassano during the committee’s meeting. “We would have funds available for those types of situations.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Associated Press writer Amy Hanson contributed to this report.
Iris Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.