Bullock says no new statewide mandates as case tally rises
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana health officials reported 733 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, again shattering the record for daily cases. The previous record, set on Tuesday, stood at 504 cases.
The number of weekly reported cases in Montana has doubled in the past two weeks, going from 1,249 to 2,451. Nearly a third of those cases were in Yellowstone and Flathead counties, which are seeing community transmission, according to state officials.
Missoula County health officials said the 211 new cases in the county represent a reporting lag in the state’s tally. Local officials reported 43 new cases on Wednesday.
However, an official said Tuesday the Missoula health department would increase enforcement of statewide regulations in response to the spike in cases, with unannounced inspections in dining establishments, bars and casinos.
Missoula incident commander Cindy Farr said that several establishments were issued warnings for failing to comply with statewide regulations, which include a mask requirement in counties with over four active cases.
Gov. Steve Bullock said during a news conference Wednesday he would not implement any new statewide restrictions, despite the spike in cases. Instead, he echoed a previous call for local authorities to implement additional restrictions in counties seeing large outbreaks.
“It can’t all be solved with Helena. There’s local responsibility here to do what they can to curb this virus,” he said.
Bullock commended the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Fort Belknap Reservation for implementing 14-day stay-at-home orders in response to spikes in cases. He said he supported recent statements from Yellowstone County health officials, who said they would implement additional restrictions next month if the number of new cases didn’t go below a certain threshold.
Bullock called on leaders of Flathead county, which is also seeing a major outbreak, to take additional action.
“If the leaders of Flathead County aren’t discussing additional steps that they should be considering, they’re not serving their communities as well as they could,” he said.
Health officials said Wednesday that the increase in cases has also put a strain on hospitals in parts of the state that are seeing a large volume of cases.
The state will begin posting a daily update on hospital capacity in Montana on Thursday, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Jim Murphy, the state’s communicable disease chief, said the state expects increased hospitalizations in the weeks to come.
Murphy said numerous hospitals in the state have had to divert patients to other facilities, and that if current trends continue, some hospitals will not be able to meet the needs of non-coronavirus patients in the coming weeks.
The state reports that 235 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in the state, and 193 have died.
Just over 16,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed by the state, but the number is thought to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and people can have COVID-19 without showing symptoms. Of those, over 5,000 are considered currently infected with the virus.
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.
On Wednesday, Bullock also said that he transferred $200 million in coronavirus relief dollars to the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund.
The fund had dipped significantly since the onset of the pandemic, from $365 million in March to $202 million at the end of September, he said.
Over 150,000 people in Montana have filed for unemployment since the beginning of the pandemic, according to figures from the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.