Montana sees cases spike in COVID-19

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Montana saw a 44-case jump in coronavirus cases over the past week, with the majority of those cases popping up in Yellowstone and Big Horn counties over the weekend.

As of Tuesday, the state listed 523 total virus cases and 17 deaths, compared to 479 total cases and 17 deaths at the same time last week. Big Horn County jumped to 31 total cases and Yellowstone County to 100 as of Tuesday. Big Horn case counts were in the single digits prior to Friday. State officials are still investigating the new clusters.

State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said in a press conference Monday that he and Gov. Steve Bullock believed the cases were not caused by “community spread.”

“Community spread is when we can’t figure out where a positive case might have gotten the disease,” Bullock said. “I want to underscore that for every positive case in Montana right now, there is not one case where we haven’t been able to identify exactly where the transmission came from.”

The state stepped up “surveillance” testing – where groups of people in vulnerable communities like nursing homes and tribal nations are tested with or without symptoms – just recently. That, combined with additional efforts to trace contacts between positive cases, have sped up the discovery of people who have the virus but without symptoms, prompting faster responses to isolate and quarantine those people before they can spread the virus to others.

“We wanted to get out in front of it to make sure the outbreak doesn’t get larger,” Holzman said.

Officials put in place “drive through” testing sites in various spots around the state, and tribal nations were some of the targeted locations. One of those sites was in Big Horn County, Bullock said. But it is unclear if those new cases were discovered through surveillance testing.

Despite the virus case spike, Bullock said he did not plan on resetting the reopening dates for parts or all of the state. Phase 2 – which allowed larger groups while social distancing is possible – began Monday. Yellowstone National Park’s Montana-facing gates also opened Monday.

“Nothing has happened over the last week to make me have some thoughts of limiting some areas, or keeping them in Phase 1,” he said.

Bullock added local public health departments and tribal nations can make rules more restrictive than his directives for the phased reopenings.

There were more than 1.78 million total cases in the nation and over 104,300 deaths as of Monday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).